Federal Investigation begins into acid-polluted Searsport beach & flats

By Ronald Huber | Jun 20, 2014
Courtesy of: Lighthawk Conservation Pilots View of the contaminated cove adjoining the 5 acre  point of land bayward of the railroad line
Federal officials looking into acidic wastes eroding and leaking onto Searsport beach & tidal flats.
"Should merit concern for the well being of local residents in contact with these sediments," - leading ocean acidification researcher
Activists call site worst acid-polluted shore in New England. Web portal on the Kidder Point spill site

SEARSPORT. Tourists and local beachcombers visiting Kidder Point Cove in Searsport Maine may be getting needlessly exposed to unsafe levels of sulfuric acid and heavy metals eroding from a nearby abandoned manufacturing facility owned by GAC Chemical Corp, according to the advocacy group Friends of Penobscot Bay, who say because Maine DEP is refusing to protect the people by requiring the company to control its eroding wastes, the federal government is now stepping in.


The federal investigation of what is now known officially as Superfund Incident # 1084729 began June 10, 2014 with a report by the group to the National Response Center, the mandatory portal for all federal pollution complaints that is operated by the US Coast Guard.


After preliminary review at the Belfast Coast Guard station by Ensign Wes Wofford, the investigation has been elevated to  USCG Lt. Commander Timothy Balunis at the Guard's Portland headquarters.  Timothy.G.Balunis@uscg.mil (207) 767-0320


The group says that at least a third of the wooden containment cradles built along shore in the 1940s & 1950s to hold highly acidic phosphogypsum waste, spent bauxite mud and other wastes have failed.


Because the highly acidic wastes have been allowed to leak and erode directly onto the beach and into the flats, the group suspects that visitors to the popular beach are exposed to unsafe levels of sulfuric acid and heavy metals characteristic of abandoned  phosphogypsum sites, in the beaches and tidal flats adjacent to the eroding waste dump.


When they visit the site to dig for worms or clams, or beachcomb  among the industrial debris littering the beach and flats, people are v ery likely absorbing unsafe levels of these wastes, according to the Friends group


Ron Huber, executive director of  of the bay gadfly group,  supplied federal officials with historic reports about the site, and with the April 9th 2014 report from prominent ocean acidification researcher Professor Mark Green of Saint Joseph's College in Standish, Maine.


Green examined samples from the beach and the tidal flats adjacent to GAC Chemical's troubled shore.


According to Dr. Green, “The results presented here clearly demonstrate a significant anthropogenic acid source and should merit concern for the well being of local residents in contact with these sediments, recreation in the immediate area, and wildlife.....I'd be very concerned about several thingsnot the least of which is that  with pH's this low, metals will certainly be mobilized where otherwise they would be locked onto sediment particles.”

The group further complained that both GAC Chemical and  Maine Department of Environmental Protection were failing to respond in the manner required by state law. The agency has declined to test wastes discoloring the beach and tidal flats at the site.


After first cooperating with Friends of Penobscot Bay, David Colter, CEO of the GAC Chemical Corp broke off negotiations, apparently over "cost" considerations and dropped the project to trim back the company's eroding shorelines. Colter's emails to FOPB about healing GAC's shore


"We had a schedule worked out to fix one part of the eroding slopes in late 2013, following up with the rest in 2013. Here we are in 2014 and the stuff is still eroding into the harbor."


To protect  area residents to and visiting tourists from this obvious public health threat, the Friends of Penob ot Bay appealed to a federal agency with a  track record dealing with spills from the shores of GAC Chemical's property - the US Coast Guard, which leads federal coastal pollution response in Maine.


Sheila Dassatt, executive director of Down East Lobstermen's Association applauded the federal initiative to examine GAC Chemicals shoreline wastes.  "Acidification is a serious problem. Let's get to the bottom of this," she said.


Also adding his voice to growing chorus calling for action, Lobsterman Richard Nelson of Friendship a member of Maine's newly-appointed Ocean Acidification  Commission, has contacted Lt Commander Balunis for opening the investigation. Noting extensive restoration and cleanup efforts going on in Penobscot Bay and River, Nelson wrote to Lt Commander Balunis that:

"Certainly it would not be wise to spend large amounts of taxpayers money on various projects with such a potentially negative stone unturned, as in the GAC case. I hope you agree that it would be worth the efforts to truly find out where we stand."

Huber said members of his group will be at the contaminated beach on Sunday afternoons to inform beach visitors of the pollution issues there.


"When leaving the cove, folks should rinse  their hands and shoes or  feet  - their dogs' paws too - before reentering their vehicles" He said. "Don't unknowingly bring toxic waste home with you!"


"This is a public health hazard. Let's get it dealt with", he said.

More about the Kidder Point eroding pollution site click here.

Friends of Penobscot Bay: People who care about Maine's biggest bay.


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