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Once overgrown and littered with debris, Berlin, NH location remediated

Date: May 06, 2021

Tucked into a Berlin, New Hampshire residential neighborhood on the top of a hill, is a small, run-down house and some associated outbuildings situated on approximately eight acres. Starting in the 1950s, a property owner began collecting and storing scrap metal consisting of iron, aluminum, copper and brass behind the home. While some metals were sorted and brought for recycling, much accumulated at the site over time.

In early 2000 a complaint was filed and inspection of the property by NHDES identified the presence of multiple 55-gallon drums, lead-acid batteries, and various scrap automotive parts and metals piled on much of the site. With oversight and routine inspections by NHDES, the property owner removed the drums, containers and batteries over the course of several years but unfortunately passed away and the property was left abandoned.

In 2018, the NHDES Brownfields Program was contacted by the City of Berlin, which was evaluating taking the property for back taxes. They were concerned about what issues may remain at the property, given the extensive amount of material previously stored at the site. NHDES was able to assist the City of Berlin, through the Brownfields Assessment Program, by contracting with an environmental consultant to perform a site investigation and environmental evaluation. The results of the investigation identified the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and metals (primarily lead) in surface soils above State standards. Given the presence of PCBs, which require substantial resources to evaluate and remediate, NHDES referred the site to EPA for evaluation by EPA Region 1’s Removal Program. EPA contractors conducted a Preliminary Assessment/Site Investigation (PA/SI) in June 2019, and determined that a removal action to address soil contamination was warranted.

The results of the PA/SI identified three distinct areas on the site with surface soils contaminated with PCBs and/or lead. EPA’s Emergency Response contractor mobilized personnel and equipment to the Site in September 2020 (work was initially scheduled to begin in April 2020, but was delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions) to conduct the contaminated soil removal. Initial site work focused on site preparation, including improving access, and clearing trees and other vegetation from the areas to be excavated.
On October 5, 2020, the EPA contractor began excavating contaminated soil. By December 2020, approximately 2,400 cubic yards (yd³) of PCB-contaminated soil, and 1,000 yd³ of lead-contaminated soil, were excavated. Removal of the soil from the site began in early April, 2021. The lead-contaminated soil will be disposed of in a regional landfill and the PCB-contaminated soil will be hauled to Worcester, Massachusetts, loaded onto rail cars, and disposed of in Michigan! The total project cost for the cleanup is expected to be up to $1.4 million.

As work progressed, a new view unfolded; once overgrown and littered with the debris, the site is now cleared, has areas of clean soil and boasts a stunning view of the nearby mountains. The City is currently considering options for the property post cleanup. What was once a blight to a quaint neighborhood now has the potential to be an opportunity and source of tax revenue again for the City.