by Nick Bennett, NRCM Staff Scientist and Watersheds Project Director
Dear Senator Boyle, Representative Welsh and members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee:
I am the staff scientist with the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). NRCM is Maine’s largest environmental advocacy group with over 12,000 members and supporters. I am testifying in opposition to LD 331. I reside in Hallowell.
The Holtrachem site in Orrington Maine contains many areas contaminated with mercury and other toxic substances, such as carbon tetrachloride, lead, PCBs, and methylene chloride. The cleanup order for the site requires the excavation of two on-site landfills and soils and sediments in numerous other areas of the site. Excavation of these areas is the best long-term solution to deal with the toxic contaminants on the site, but there is a short-term risk of exposure to people in the vicinity of the excavation activities due to dust and fumes from volatile substances (it is important to remember that mercury vaporizes at ambient temperatures).
In developing its order for cleaning up this site, DEP consulted with experts at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which has great expertise in hazardous waste. ATSDR concluded that cleanup at the site would not unreasonably threaten to public health if no new development were allowed within one mile of the site during cleanup operations. However, ATSDR also said it would need to reevaluate that conclusion if development were to occur within one mile of the site (1).
Based on ATSDR’s recommendation, DEP wisely opted to restrict activity near the site at least until cleanup operations are complete. We ask that the committee consider that LD 331 would fly in the face of ATSDR’s recommendations, which NRCM believes should not be taken lightly.
In addition, companies with sites requiring extensive cleanup often advocate for remedies that leave significant amounts of waste in place. In turn, they agree to deed restrictions on the land. This is often a cheaper way to deal with some hazardous waste sites. However, if deed restrictions do not hold up over time Maine, these sorts of “in-situ” remedies will become more problematic for DEP and federal agencies to approve. They would be more likely to require extensive and more expensive excavation remedies.
For these reasons, we urge the Committee to vote ought not to pass on LD 331. I would be happy to address any questions.
 I have attached the relevant pages of the ATSDR document with this recommendation to my testimony. The full report is available at www.maine.gov/dep/spills/holtrachem/documents/healthconsultation.pdf