'Upland Disposal Facility' in Lee named landfill for low-level PCB dirt

LEE — The site is known as the "Lane quarry" after the construction company that technically still owns it. It's located off Woodland Road in an isolated section of town, but it's far from a pristine spot. Industrial activity has previously taken place on the property and there are nearby landfills.

Given those factors, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has chosen this former gravel pit from among three possible locations in the Berkshires to serve as the final local resting place for low concentrations of PCB-contaminated material that will be dredged from the rest of the Housatonic River. The others sites under consideration were off Forest Street in Lee and at Rising Pond in Great Barrington.

The Upland Disposal Facility, as the property will be known, is 1,000 feet from the Lee side of the Housatonic across the river from Lenox Dale. But it's also 15 feet above the water table, centrally located to the areas of remediation between Pittsfield and Great Barrington, and is near Woods Pond, where EPA administrators say roughly a quarter of the Polychlorinated Biphenyls, or PCBs, remain in the river. It's located close enough to the pond that EPA is considering pumping some of the contaminated soil from the river directly to the site.

"If it's feasible," said Bryan Olson, the director of the EPA's Superfund and Emergency Management Division, "and we think it's feasible right now.''

Reduction of truck traffic

Pumping material directly to the site could eliminate some of the truck traffic that will clog local roads, which the EPA and members of the five town Rest of River committee also view as a plus, even those who were originally against the establishment of a local disposal site.

"In the long run, do I want a landfill in my town? No," said longtime Lee Select Board member Patricia Carlino, a member of the Rest of River Municipal Committee. "But if I'm going to be forced with a landfill in my town, I want it to be the safest and the nicest and the best it can be. And I think we've done that with the help of EPA."

Plans call for contaminated soil containing average to low concentrations of PCBs — those estimated at between 20 and 25 milligrams per kilograms, or parts per million — to be buried in a 20-acre containment area that is located on the upper level of the former gravel pit property.

"This is the kind of stuff that can be on an industrial site," Olson said.

Out of state disposal

Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the EPA is required to regulate contaminated wastes that contain 50 parts per million of PCBs or more. The contaminated material at or over that threshold will be taken "out of state and across the country" to places like Michigan and Texas, Olson said.

"Anything that's regulated under the toxic substance control act is going off site," Olson said.

Olson said the Upland Disposal Facility will be equivalent to a "municipal solid waste landfill kind of situation."

"It's not a hazardous waste landfill. It's not a toxic substance control act landfill," he said. "What we have in there is even different than a municipal landfill where you put in a whole bunch of different things and you really don't know what's there.

"It's fairly sophisticated construction, but it's not like this is state-of-the-art technology," Olson said. "It's just [being used] in a way that's more protected."

The contaminated waste will be wrapped in material that Olson describes as "basically thick plastic." The seams of this material will be fused together with heat.

"There'll be a double liner, and in between that liner, there'll be a place where you can collect anything that comes out of the landfill to make sure there is no leachate coming out," Olson said.

Leachate is a liquid containing dissolved and suspended matter that passes through a landfill, and can pose a significant threat to both surface and ground water, according to sciencedirect.com.

The disposal facility will contain a groundwater monitoring network system.

"You want to be a certain level above the groundwater," Olson said. "So we're going to be a minimum of 10 to 15 feet above the groundwater table.

"You put the liner in and then you put some drainage systems above that so the water that does get in drains off," Olson said.

A multi-layer low permeability engineered "cap" will top the landfill. The settlement agreement prohibits anyone one using the Upland Disposal Facility for taking any materials from the site beyond those that are part of the Rest of River cleanup.

The leader of one local environmental group is cautiously optimistic that the disposal facility will work.

"I'm not ever convinced a landfill will last for ever; we'll all re-advocate for cleaning it up with alternative technology," said Jane Winn, the executive director of the Pittsfield-based Berkshire Environmental Action Team. "But I think it's the safest that we have at this point."

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.