As part of its regular schedule of every-five-years reviews of each active Superfund site, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seeks input from affected communities. The WR Grace site is up for review this year, and EPA sought input from Green Acton, the Acton Water District, and the Town of Acton Health Department.
In 1978, it was discovered that toxins from the Grace site had contaminated two of Acton’s drinking water wells. In 1983, WRG was declared a Superfund Site, and remediation has been ongoing since. In 1989, Acton Citizens for Environmental Safety (ACES) was formed to watchdog the process from the community’s perspective. For more than 25 years, ACES was a strong and persistent advocate for the most thorough investigation and most protective cleanup of the WR Grace site possible .
In 2016, ACES and Green Acton merged, under the Green Acton name. As the successor organization to ACES, Green Acton was invited by EPA to continue the process of providing resident input at the time of the 2019 five-year review. Green Acton Co-President Jim Snyder-Grant and Water Committee Chair Kim Kastens met by phone on April 18, 2019 with Christopher Smith of the EPA Office of Site Remediation and Restoration, Barbara Weir of the contractor AECOM, and hydrogeologist Warren Diesl. Their questions for us concerned our overall impression of the project, community concerns or complaints, how well informed we feel about site activities and progress of the cleanup, and what recommendations we might have about the site’s management and operation.
With respect to the community’s knowledge and concerns, we conveyed that the information made available to the Acton community about the WR Grace site has been woefully sparse during the 2014–2019 five-year reporting period. There is only one entry during those years in the web collection of fact sheets and public meeting documents, and that is a congratulatory piece about re-development of the smaller Concord section of the site, with no mention of the problems that remain in Acton. We advocated for a return to a regular flow of information between EPA and the public about the Grace site, as had been the norm during the early decades following the Superfund designation. We requested that EPA hold a public briefing for the community on the results of the 2019 five-year review. Mr. Smith, who is newly assigned to the WR Grace site and thus, not responsible for the silence of the last five years, seemed quite responsive to these requests.
With respect to recommendations about the site’s management and operation, we had one very important request: to add 1,4-Dioxane to the remediation plan. 1,4-Dioxane is an organic compound that was widely used as a solvent and stabilizer in industrial applications during the late 20th century. It has only recently become possible to measure its concentration at low levels, and toxicology research on its health impacts is at an early stage. Nonetheless, enough is known that the EPA technical fact sheet on 1,4-Dioxane describes it as a “likely human carcinogen.” At the nearby Nuclear Metals, Inc. (NMI) Superfund Site (in Concord), the groundwater plume of 1,4-Dioxane is being intercepted and treated.
But at the WR Grace site, there is no effort underway to remediate for 1,4-Dioxane in the groundwater. Sufficient measurements have been made to confirm that 1,4-Dioxane is present, but because this is an emerging pollutant that was poorly understood when the WR Grace remediation plan was finalized, 1,4-Dioxane was not included as one of the contaminants to be remediated. Adding 1,4-Dioxane remediation to the official to-do list was our final and most important recommendation to EPA. Green Acton and other stakeholders will follow up on this.