Despite assurances from consultant, more soil testing proposed for Baron’s South
WESTPORT — Despite the possibility the fill pile at Baron’s South may consist of naturally occurring traces of arsenic, the town wants more testing done at the property.
“We have sort of an arsenic belt that goes from Maine, New Hampshire and through Connecticut,” said environmental consultant Darby Hittle, of Thunderbird Environmental, during a special Board of Selectmen meeting Wednesday. “So it’s difficult for environmental professionals with a limited data set to determine if the presence of elevated arsenic has a naturally occurring background.”
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Concerns for the pile arose after one sample from the excavated earth near the Westport Center for Senior Activities tested at 13 milligrams per kilogram — 3 milligrams above the Residential and Industrial/Commercial Direct Exposure criteria.
One sample later tested at 17.5 milligrams, while other samples tested as low as 8 milligrams.
“Unfortunately, the contaminants that are in the pile at the senior center are very common throughout Connecticut,” Hittle said, adding DEEP provides guidelines to reuse polluted soil.
Hittle outlined options for the BOS that included relocating the contaminated soil to a facility in New Jersey for a cost of $225,000 to $500,000, moving the fill to a site by the Greens Farms train station, or covering it in its current location.
While Hittle recommended the town make a risk analysis in any decision made, he noted the data suggests the arsenic is naturally occurring. The property is also not under any regulatory programs overseen by DEEP.
“The DEEP, in my opinion, would not have the appetite to get involved with a site like this,” Hittle said.
Though the BOS pushed for further testing and a professional to do a health risk assessment, the meeting got testy when residents voiced concerns of the fill’s use.
Westport resident Morley Boyd cited an email chain from June 2018 between town officials discussing moving the soil off site. The emails, which he obtained through a Freedom of Information request, show an exchange between Parks and Recreation Department Director Jennifer Fava and operations manager Dan DeVito about using the fill for a berm in the Soundview parking lot.
“That’s a public parking lot adjacent to a residence and across the street from a playground,” Boyd said, adding he took pictures of soil at the Soundview lot that appeared to be from the Baron’s South property.
“A reasonable assumption is that Parks and Recreation did what they said they were going to do, and put it where they said they were going to put it,” he said.
However, Public Works Director Pete Ratkiewich said the emails did not support Boyd’s position, noting there had been other conversations about using the soil at Longshore before Fava explicitly stated the fill would not be used.
“I maintain this is hearsay,” Ratkiewich said. “There’s no confirmation in the email chain that it actually happened.”
Representative Town Meeting member Sal Liccione, however, said he was disturbed by what he heard and requested all of the soil at Baron’s South be tested.
“Something has to be done about this,” Liccione said.
But Lou Mall, another RTM member, defended town officials and agreed the fill did not pose a danger.
“This is not hazardous, contaminated, immediate, or a health hazard to anyone,” Mall said, claiming town employees were being harassed through FOI requests. “I think the public needs to find out how our employees are being treated.”
RTM member Kristin Schneeman said further testing and judment from a health risk assessor could help determine what best to do with the pile.
“Testing that soil on the rest of the property is really important,” she said.
Ratkiewich will report back to the BOS with remediation estimates in six to eight weeks, following further soil tests.
“I’d like to conclude with this problem isn’t anyone’s fault,” Ratkiewich said. “It’s inherent to the soil that we inherited.”