Londonderry Superfund site 41-year cleanup to be reviewed

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A 1999 Environmental Protection Agency map shows “plumes” of arsenic in soil and groundwater that had spread from the former Londonderry landfill on Auburn Road. The site is undergoing its seventh five-year review this year. (EPA image)

LONDONDERRY, NH – A five-year review of the former Auburn Road Landfill Superfund site in Londonderry is scheduled to begin this month by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The site has been on the Superfund priority list since 1981 and this year’s review will be its seventh. It’s one of four New Hampshire sites that will undergo the legally required five-year EPA review this year. Superfund sites in Plaistow, Dover and Milford also will be reviewed.

The sites are among 14 in New England that will be reviewed this year of a total 123 Superfund cleanups in the region. The Superfund program, which started in 1980, identifies “the most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites in the country,” and works to clean them up, including getting responsible parties to help pay. The goal is public and environmental health, but the process also aims to make the land reusable.

The five-year review is required by law for sites that have been cleaned up to make sure remediation is working. Reuse of the land is often restricted until, or even after, it comes off the priority list. The reviews continue until it does.

EPA New England acting Regional Administrator Deb Szaro said the reviews are a priority. 

“By completing reviews of the cleanups every five years, EPA fulfills its duty to remain vigilant so that these communities continue to be protected,” Szaro said.

Besides the Auburn Road Landfill, New Hampshire sites under review this year are the former Beede Waste Oil, in Plaistow; the former Dover Municipal Landfill; and the former Fletcher’s Paint Works, in Milford.

[subhed]A four-decade effort in Londonderry

The Auburn Road Landfill site went on the EPA Superfund priority list in 1981. This year’s will be its seventh five-year review. Reviews in the past have determined there’s no immediate public health threat for people who live in the area, but long-term issues remain, including arsenic levels in the soil and groundwater.

The 200-acre site started off as a gravel pit, became the town dump in 1965, and continued as the landfill until it was closed by the state in 1980 after contaminants were found in groundwater water. The land had been bought and sold by a variety of private owners over the decades before the landfill was closed, with the town leasing the landfill site and private dumping also taking place.

The property turned out to be a one-two-three punch of toxins, with contamination spread over three areas initially comprising about 12 acres, and spreading through the water and soil beyond the site’s borders.

The worst source of contamination was the town landfill, according to the EPA. In another area, nearly 2,000 drums of chemical waste had been dumped in the 1960s. In a third area, tires, demolition debris and 316 drums of chemical waste were dumped, according to the EPA.

When the landfill was closed, there were 570 homes within a mile radius that used wells for their water supply. The most threatened was Whispering Pines mobile home park. In early 1986, the Federal Emergency Management Agency temporarily relocated 17 families after the EPA determined that contaminated groundwater was flowing toward wells at the mobile home park. 

Other area residential wells were also in jeopardy, the EPA found. The town extended the municipal water supply to the area in 1987, something the EPA said went a long way to avoid a public health crisis.

Excavating and removing the thousands of chemical-containing drums took two years – and that was just the start. The cleanup, including repairing groundwater supplies and capping the sites, was completed in 1996

The effort over the years has involved the town, the state, the EPA and four major and 27 other “potentially responsible parties,” who in 1999 settled a suit for $5.8 million to pay for the cleanup and future remediation.

In 2007, the five-year site review determined it would take more than 50 years to clean up arsenic contamination at the site. The fifth review, in 2012, determined arsenic levels were not being reduced at the rate they should be. Since then, science and cleanup have improved and monitoring continues, the EPA said.

Until the land comes off the priority list, there is a negative easement on it, which means use is restricted, including a ban on residential development. The Londonderry Town Council approved a lease of 90 acres at the site to Granite Apollo Energy in April 2018 for a solar array, which has yet to be built.

Other NH five-year reviews

The former Dover Municipal Landfill operated from 1960 until 1980. It’s been on the priority list since 1983. The town extended municipal water to nearby residents in the 1980s, which has prevented contamination from being a public health issue, the EPA said.

More than 41,000 pounds of contaminants were removed from groundwater in the northwest portion of the landfill, the EPA said. Groundwater extraction began in 2012, removing between 70 and 100 gallons of contaminated groundwater every minute. The site continues to be monitored to make sure contaminants are being intercepted and are declining in areas outside of the landfill, the EPA said.

The Beede Waste Oil site in Plaistow has been on the list since 2008. The 41-acre site was home to oil and waste recycling businesses from 1925 to 1996. Kelley Brook, a tributary of the Little River, was contaminated with oil from the site. Remediation is expected to last through 2024.

In Milford, the Fletcher’s Paint Works & Storage site went on the priority list in 1989. The downtown site was a paint manufacturing and retail operation from 1949 to 1991.

The company took up two acres, with a manufacturing and retail outlet on Elm Street and a storage area on Mill Street. The EPA said that years of storage released polychlorinated biphenyls – commonly known as PCBs – and solvents into the soil, groundwater and nearby Souhegan River.

The site review will begin this year and is expected to be completed next year, the EPA said.


About this Author


Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken is a contract reporter and content producer for consumer financial agencies. She has worked for northern New England publications, including the New Hampshire Union Leader, for 25 years, and most recently at Mainebiz in Portland, Maine. She can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.