In 2001, the revelation of toxic chemicals in the Newhall Neighborhood of Hamden left the community outraged. Students and faculty for years prior had been complaining of breathing problems and nausea. When child after child started missing school and the overall attendance was down, all eyes looked at the ground. With high levels of lead and arsenic, the area revealed a rich history of dumping ash, batteries and chemical drums from the Olin/Winchester decades prior. The community was angry, rightfully so. The health of their children, themselves and their community was now at risk.
Ten years ago, before this all occurred, the dangers of chemical dumping or waste areas were relatively unforeseen. Testing of soils was unfounded, and land changed hands from chemical company’s waste dumps to public land rapidly. The results of testing the soil and other long-term effects were substantially more inconclusive than they are today. In essence, though the though the contamination of soil and the environment is a problem, the Olin Corporation should not take full blame. As is similar to Love Canal, I firmly believe that the town of Hamden was aware of the potential health risks of the land. One would only hope that the land and the chemicals left there would be fully researched before developing the land residentially, especially when building a school. When health concerns arise in schools due to soil contamination or various other problems, chemical companies are quick to be blamed. However, I fully believe that it is not just one single entity that should feel the blame. The public and their developers have a responsibility to independently research the land-especially if a school is being developed on the site. Issues on both sides have been shoved under the surface when in reality, Olin Corporation and the town of Hamden need to share the blame.
In order to fully comprehend both sides of this argument, it is important to be familiar with the background of Hamden Middle School. The school itself was built in 1955 when it opened its doors for the first time. The town of Hamden received the site for a school in 1947. Previously, the Winchester Group (owned and operated by the Olin Corp) used the site. Winchester installed incinerators and burned paper along with burying chemical drums. Though the land was acquired in 1947, town sources cite that the Olin Corp. dumped chemicals up to five years after. The construction on the new school began anyway, amidst concerns about not covering up the chemical drums with enough soil. Residents of the neighborhood also illegally dumped garbage in this area as well. In 2002, Winchester/Olin Corp was named one of the “Dirty Dozen” in Connecticut, citing its top environmental health threat to Hamden Middle School and the adjacent Newhall neighborhood.
All the problems began in November of 2000. Developers and the town were doing preliminary investigations into a school expansion. When developing a report on the history of the site, it was then that the “revelation” of the dumpsite occurred. After testing the soil, it was found to be contaminated. Within the next two months all schools in the area, almost all schools in Hamden asked for their soil to be tested. Only the Hamden Middle School and the Newhall neighborhood came back with positive tests in their surface soils. Including in the neighborhood would be Rochford Park, where a high level of Arsenic was found in the soil. Also, found were old battery casings from Winchester.
Specifically the soil and environmental tests are as follows:
As is illustrated by the table, lead, arsenic, petroleum hydrocarbons(TPH) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) were found at levels that were higher than the state’ criteria. PAH’s were 30-40 times higher than what was recommended. Methane was also found at a dangerously high level, (in explosive range) under the floor of the boiler room.
Some basic questions by parents and some basic answers about soil contamination. (Adapted from the Environmental Protection Agency’s website)
What is soil contamination? According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is when hazardous substances, like lead and arsenic in liquid or solid form are mixed with the particles of soil. These chemicals either physically attach themselves to individual particles of soil, or in some cases, are trapped in between.
This all occurs from the dumping or spillage of chemicals or if soil were moved from one contaminated area to another, an obvious example would be the chemical waste dumps that Olin/Winchester used. Other examples would be the particles the company lets out into the air. These particles then fall onto the ground attaching to the soil particles. Another source of soil contamination could be water that washes contamination from an area containing hazardous substances and deposits the contamination in the soil as it flows over or through the land
A Brief Overview on How Soil is tested:
Courtesy of Newhall Remediation project, www.newhallinfo.org Site Testing
Since 2000, there has been a lot of testing for contamination in the Newhall neighborhood. Testing for soil and water pollution has been done on public lands such as the Middle School grounds and athletic fields, Rochfield Field, Mill Rock Park, rights-of-way and at private residences.
Still much more study needs to be done before the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) can develop a plan to remove contamination, keep it in a place people will not be exposed to it and/or move residents from polluted areas.
In the coming year DEP will be approving plans for more testing so final plans for clean up can begin. As work plans to investigate contamination develop, look at this section of the web site for:
• The locations where testing will occur
• What testing methods will be used
• Testing schedule
• Access form to grant permission for testing
• Testing results
Soil testing at Newhall church previews testing proposed at neighborhood residences.
Step 1. Soil Sample Removed From Ground
This machine used to collect soil samples is called a Geoprobe®. A Geoprobe is a large hydraulic hammer that pounds a metal cylinder into the ground. Because it works by using a lot of pressure to push the cylinder into the ground, the The Geoprobe can be placed very close to foundations and structures without causing harm. Holes dug by a Geoprobe are very precise and do not spread beyond the diameter of the cylinder used.
For example, this 2 ½ – 3-inch wide hole was dug in the parking lot of the Christian Tabernacle Baptist Church. The Geoprobe was able to dig through the pavement to a depth of 16 feet without cracking the pavement around the hole
Inside the Geoprobe’s metal cylinder are plastic tubes that collect soil. Each tube is 1 ½ inches wide and 4 feet long. The Geoprobe collects a 4-foot long soil sample each time it is placed in the ground. Testing was done at the church to a depth of 16 feet. This means four separate tubes were used at this sampling location to collect soil at different depths between the ground surface and 16 feet below the ground surface. Testing in the Newhall neighborhood will be done to different depths using the Geoprobe, depending on how deep waste is found. Depending on soil conditions, the Geoprobe can take samples to a depth of 20 feet or more below the ground surface.
A technician is removing plastic tubing from inside the Geoprobe’s® metal cylinder just after it has been lifted from the ground. Note the different color caps on each end; they help keep track of the depth of each soil sample.
Step 2: Soil Sample Examined, Sorted and Labeled
Once a soil sample is removed, it is brought to a mobile trailer on site to be examined, sorted and labeled before being brought to a laboratory for testing.
First, each plastic tube is cut in half.
Each four-foot tube is divided into two sets for taking samples, with two samples for each set. The location (depth and area) of each sample and what the sample looks like is recorded. The technician will sort through the sample to identify the type of soil, debris and other visible characteristics. The soil sample is also tested for odors.
Step 3: Laboratory Testing
Each sample is numbered and placed in glass jars. In this case, one set of samples is tested for organic compounds, the other for metals.
These samples were sent to the state DEP’s mobile laboratory for preliminary metals testing using a hand-held, X-ray fluorescence device. After review of these results, a decision is made which samples should have full laboratory analyses done for metals and other substances at a state-certified lab. Many soil samples taken in the neighborhood will initially be tested using X-ray fluorescence. Then, private labs certified by the state will be used to fully analyze the soil samples. DEP and the laboratories have quality control standards for all testing, and DEP will monitor private testing by performing its own random tests on the same soils tested privately to make sure the results are correct.
TIn regards to animals and humans, one can become sick from ingesting or touching large amounts of the contaminated soil. They may also become sick if the plants they eat are contaminated. Humans ingest soil in many ways; however, those who are most at risk are children. This comes from playing in the contaminated soil. Since the Newhall neighborhood has many schools and athletic fields both in and surrounding it, any contaminated soil poses a legitimate threat. Everything though, relates to three simple questions: How long have you been exposed, the type of exposure and the frequency. These will determine whether you have legitimately and unsafely been exposed.
There are three general approaches to cleaning up contaminated soil: 1) soil can be excavated from the ground and be either treated or disposed; 2) soil can be left in the ground and treated in place; or 3) soil can be left in the ground and contained to prevent the contamination from becoming more widespread and reaching plants, animals, or humans. (DEP).One of the most popular methods is to put a temporary cap on the chemicals. This can be a large plastic cap, or in the case of the Newhall neighborhood, a cap made of soil.
This poses a couple of problems: first, it seems like a quick solution to an ever-growing problem. Secondly, the name of this procedure is a “temporary cap” which means it cannot last forever. This is exactly the “unforeseen” problem in Hamden. However, what is unforeseen in the media and unforeseen in the eyes of the chemical company or town…is there. It is just all hidden under the surface.
The Town of Hamden does have a good case against the Olin/Winchester Corp. Out of all the companies at one point or another who used the site, they definitely deposited the most waste. In fact, the waste they deposited was more dangerous. In addition, the Town of Hamden has been crunching numbers and overspending for years, since Olin is worth millions, they felt that they could foot the bill. Being a scapegoat is much easier than looking in the mirror.
My personal viewpoint is simple: Olin Corporation does not deserve all the blame. In fact, the Department of Environmental Protection agrees with me. Instead of Olin footing the entire bill for the cleanup and testing, the cost was split with the town. In cases such as these, it is so easy to point fingers at those who hold more dollars in their hand. The town of Hamden and the Newhall Neighborhood is the little person, while Olin is the evil corporation. It is a portrait that America loves to paint. With a few short strokes of the brush, they have a million dollars.
A chemistry professor once told a class that there was one huge motivational factor on earth. Thinking scientifically I marked down gravity. Subsequently it was marked wrong. I now know that money is the largest motivational factor on earth. Nevertheless, money is at the top of the family tree, and branches off in many directions. Money is the grandfather, tall and strong. The people are the grandchildren, malleable and taking everything in. However, there is one large force in environmental issues: politics. Politics are that crazy aunt that nobody likes to talk about. Politics have become not about doing what is right for its general value, but about what it will look at from the outside. What will people think? What will people say? It is no longer “am I doing what is right? The Town of Hamden did not do what was right. They fully well knew the extent of the dumping grounds in the Newhall Neighborhood, yet continued to push forward with building plans for schools, athletic fields and parks. While they kneeled to the almighty dollar, scores of children and teachers would walk through the school doors and play on unhealthy fields. Shame on Hamden.