The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) made a presentation about the future of the Fireworks site to the Hanover Selectboard on Monday, September 18. You can watch the entire meeting here. At the meeting, the MassDEP reported that they were at an impasse in their negotiations with the potential responsible parties which include the Department of Defense, MIT, Susquehanna, Kerr-McGee (Tronox) and the National Coating Corporation, and that they would be working over the next year to close down the clean up and secure the site using the remainder of the $70 million that was conveyed to this site during the Tronox bankruptcy proceedings. It is uncertain when the clean up work will restart.

To date almost $70 million has been spent largely on removing unexploded ordinances to ensure public safety. There is an estimated $200 million of additional work needed to finish the remediation of the site and the Drinkwater and Indian Head River. The MassDEP stated that responsible parties were not in agreement with MassDEP about the cost and the extent of the contamination, including the responsibility of contaminated sediments found downstream behind Ludden’s Ford dam. The MassDEP reached out to the EPA for their assistance. The EPA offered to examine if the site was appropriate for listing in the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL). Superfund allows the EPA to clean up contaminated sites and force responsible parties to pay for it. The EPA is reviewing all of the studies and reports done to date. Sites on the NPL are subject to detailed investigation, are eligible for resources including funding and staff, absent these federal resources it is unclear how the cleanup would be funded.

Figure 1. Slide from MassDEP presentation to Hanover Selectboard September 18, 2023

According to the presentation from the EPA, the process to even be considered for listing will take about a year. The EPA conducts a review of all the existing data collected from the site and conducts further sampling for their own site assessment. Once completed, they prepare a Hazard Ranking System package. Once completed the listing must go through the federal rulemaking and requires a letter of concurrence from the Governor. Once the site is proposed to the NPL then there is a 60 day public comment period. The site is finalized upon consideration of the public comments received.

Figure 2, Slide from US EPA presentation to Hanover Selectboard September 18, 2023.

At this point there appear to be no other options for funding the remaining $200 million of clean up – most of which is to improve the ecology of the river. The EPA, through the Superfund program, appears to be the only agency that has the potential capacity to get the site cleaned up and force the responsible parties back to the negotiating table. Recently their backlog of sites was funded through the Infrastructure bill which included $3.5 billion for existing Superfund projects. In 2022, there was a reinstatement of a tax on chemical companies that will provide additional ongoing resources to the Superfund program as well as what can be recovered from the responsible parties.

Figure 3. Slide from MassDEP presentation to Hanover Selectboard September 18, 2023

One of the issues we are most concerned with is the continued risk of further movement of contaminated sediments from behind the Factory Pond dam to downstream resources either through large storm events mobilizing sediments or through dam failure. As the precipitation patterns are becoming more extreme with climate change the risk of these scenarios increases. Overall, precipitation in the Northeast has increased 30% and extreme precipitation has increased 50% already. We urge the Towns of Hanover and Hanson to support this listing as quickly as possible. If you live in Hanover or Hanson, please call or email your selectboard members and let them know you want the rivers cleaned up as quickly as possible.  The EPA and MassDEP will be presenting again next Tuesday, September 26, 2023 at the Hanson Selectboard meeting.

Figure 4. Slide from MassDEP presentation to Hanover Selectboard September 18, 2023

We are still considering this news and how it will potentially impact any dam removals downstream but likely this news will extend any timeline for removal until the EPA has completed their own assessments of the extent of the contamination and who is responsible for its clean up.

For more information on the Fireworks site, go to these links: