Study finds acidic mud at Kidder Point

Local group calls for action
By Jordan Bailey | Jun 25, 2014
Photo by: Jordan Bailey Friends of Penobscot Bay President Ron Huber points toward one of the areas where low pH was measured.

Searsport — A study by Dr. Mark Green, environmental science professor at St. Joseph’s College in Standish and ocean acidification expert, found sediment along the shore on the western side of Kidder Point in Searsport to be “extremely acidic,” and a local group is calling for federal agencies to investigate the site.

At the request of Friends of Penobscot Bay, pH of mud was measured at 22 sites on the east side of Sears Island and the west side of Kidder Point. Green reported one location measuring a pH of 1.4 and the rest ranged from 4.55 to 7.15. The average of all the sample measurements was 6.03. Sediments with pH measurements in the 6's and below, Green said in his April 9 report on the study, should be considered incapable of supporting any marine life. In a quick microscopic analysis of the sediments tested, he said he did not see evidence of any of the microscopic organisms that are usually ubiquitous in coastal mud.

The report concluded, “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.” Green also expressed the concern in a message sent with the report that metals that would normally be locked in sediment particles could be mobilized by the acidity of the environment.

At a meeting with The Journal April 18 for a previous article, GAC President David Colter and GAC's environmental consultant John Pond of CES Inc. explained that GAC has a fully implemented Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan by which stormwater is treated because of wastes present at the site from its historic uses.

"If GAC wasn't here," Pond said, "the stormwater would be running off  pollution into the bay."

However, Green stated in his report, “Based on the proximity of these stations to the phosphogypsum waste area at Kidder Point there is little doubt that these deposits are being severely impacted by runoff at the adjacent shoreline.”

A group of 10 people met at Sears Island Sunday, June 22, for an informational tour of the Kidder Point shoreline led by FOPB President Ron Huber. The group walked to Green’s sample sites and observed the erosion along the western side of Kidder Point. They saw that the sediment was discolored in areas, with red and yellow hues, and yellow pebbles, believed to be sulfur from a former sulfur acid plant on the property, were peppered among the gravel and cobbles. The erosion appeared to be controlled on the eastern side of the point.

FOPB had been bringing their concerns about this site to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection's attention for several years, and in response an inspector from the department did a site visit October 18, 2013. Karen Knuuti of the Division of Solid Waste Management described a visual inspection of the site in a memo in which she noted areas of yellow and orange discoloration of sediments and some gradual erosion. The only discussion of phosphogypsum in the memo is: “Regarding phosphogypsum, it is not clear if this waste would have been produced by the superphosphate process. I saw no indication of large quantities of waste in the area we walked over." Knuuti also discusses reviewing logs of borings that were made in the area as part of an investigation in the late 1980s. "Sulfur [was noted] in one boring," the memo states. "No other waste materials are noted [in the logs].”

DEP Communications Director Jessamine Logan told The Journal June 23 “the department found no reason to further investigate the property.”

However, many on the June 22 shoreline walk felt the DEP should continue their investigation.

Randall Parr, Green Party District 95 candidate for the Maine House of Representatives, read from a statement he had prepared: “Failure of Maine state agencies to investigate acidification... is a dereliction of duty, shirking their responsibility to the people who depend on the sea for livelihoods and recreation. A scientist who has taken samples determined that there is reason to investigate this site further.”

Mike Dassatt, treasurer of Downeast Lobsterman’s Association, pointed out that there is no life “not even seaweed” along the portion of shoreline near the test site. “From Downeast Lobstermen's Association’s point of view,” he said, “if there's nothing to be concerned about, and there's nothing to hide, then there shouldn't be any reason [for the DEP] not to take samples and get them tested.”

Frustrated with the DEP’s response, FOPB filed a complaint through the National Response Center (NRC), the federal contact point for reporting all hazardous substance releases and oil spills, but it is unclear if the Environmental Protection Agency or Coast Guard will conduct a full investigation.

Timothy Balunis, chief of incident management at the U.S. Coast Guard office in Portland, has been assigned to the case. He emphasized in a call with The Journal that “the site is not a Superfund site," and their response is not a Superfund investigation, as has been implied in a press release by FOPB, but simply the standard procedure after any NRC report is made. According to the EPA website, reports to the NRC activate the National Contingency Plan in which the on-scene coordinator assigned to the incident collects available information on the size and nature of the release, the facility or vessel involved, and the party or parties responsible for the release. Balunis is currently working with the Maine DEP and is reviewing the department’s findings.

“DEP has gone up several times and have been thorough and pro-active in looking into the site,” Balunis said.

At this point, Balunis says, he is not sure if the Coast Guard will be doing any of its own inspections or sampling, and he has made no determination as to hazards to public health at the site.

If state and federal agencies are not yet pursuing full investigations of the site, GAC Chemical may be in the process of doing so voluntarily. A request for comment on GAC’s plans regarding testing, mitigation or cleanup of the area tested by Green was not responded to by press time, but in an email to Huber dated May 21, Colter said “GAC is voluntarily exploring options and alternatives with an environmental consulting firm,” and though no specific timetable can be determined at this early stage of their exploratory efforts, GAC “will continue those efforts in a deliberate manner.”

A participant in the tour crumbles yellow pebbles, believed to be sulfur, which can be found along the shore on Kidder Point. (Photo by: Jordan Bailey)
The cove between Sears Island and Kidder Point. (Photo by: Jordan Bailey)
Sheila Dassatt, executive director of Downeast Lobstermen's Association, discusses concerns about ocean acidification and acid pollution while touring the west side of Kidder Point. (Photo by: Jordan Bailey)
Comments (2)
Posted by: wellington dunbar | Jun 26, 2014 19:40

Darrel Brown was Paul LePage's choice to head the Maine DEP when he took office. Darrel Brown was involved in several questionable endeavors over the last many years. He didn't last very long as the new appointee. How could he, given his long history but that did not stop LePage from doing it anyway. Do you think his second choice for Commissioner would be that far off from the first choice? What is Patty Aho's track record?

Posted by: Ronald Huber | Jun 26, 2014 11:21

Poor Mr. Pond.  "If GAC wasn't here. ..."

I've walked those shores with John several times, in company of David Colter. We've all agreed the company's waste filled shoreline is eroding away under GAC Chemical's watch.   It was when the four letter word "cost" entered the discussion, after Pond was tasked to come up with scenarios for fixing the leaky waste bluff, that negotiations with the community on final plans for the re-landscaping of their shore came to a complete stop - in late 2012!

Given the well researched anti-nature track record of Maine DEP under Commissioner Patty Aho, it is not surprising to find the same sort of  counter-precautionary see-no-evil   That agency needs to stop playing loyal industry vassal, rejoicing in GAC's present ops while determinedly ignoring the sizzling mystery gumbo oozing and eroding into Stockton Harbor by earlier industrial tenants of their property. 

Sure GAC Chemical Company's present day waste emissions are more or less at par with regulations. That's not the point. The heavy metals and acids leaking and eroding off the the company's land from 90 years of waste dumped along the shore by their predecessors are not remotely legal.  For the left behind wastes at identical abandoned superphosphate plants elsewhere have been shown to be rich with sulfuric acid, chromium, cobalt, nickel, copper, zinc, arsenic, selenium, silver, cadmium, antimony, mercury, thallium, lead, uranium and radium. 

While we hope this is not the case, unlike DEP we prefer to find out.

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