DEVENS — A coordinated environmental cleanup of the former Bryant firing range, off Hospital Road near the former Spruce and Oak street housing areas, has been completed. The area is now cleared for use as a parking lot for one of the trails head leading into the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge.
The announcement was made by Robert Simeone, Army base realignment and closure environmental coordinator at the recent Restoration Advisory Board meeting in Harvard.
With the cleanup underway through the winter months, a large covered pile of contaminated soil, surrounded by construction equipment, caused some speculation as to what was taking place at the site.
Discovered during the initial site assessment, when Devens was turned over to MassDevelopment, were bullets, bullet fragments and contaminated soil. The contaminants were removed in a coordinated effort by the Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Oxbow Wildlife Refuge and Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW).
The range had first been used in 1943 and was still in use in 1965, according to aerial photographs provided by Simeone. He said the EPA was concerned that bullet fragments could have been ingested by wildlife and wanted no more than 3 fragments per square foot to remain.
Department of Environmental Protection representative Lynne Welch explained that birds, who use roughage in their digestive tracts, could have picked up fragments of lead, something Simeone said is fairly common on skeet shooting ranges.
The $400,000 cleanup project involved X-ray fluorescence screening, excavation in three areas, soil-sieving, and the “fixation” of lead contamination. Simeone said the latter is accomplished by mixing sodium phosphate into dry soil which the binds up the lead content.
“It is non-leachable and won’t fail,” he said. “It’s a pretty standard process although other agents can be used. Soil washing is done on larger ranges and it worked well. We’re lucky we had a mild winter.”
In all some 1,660 tons of soil were removed from five remedial areas, another 910 tons was fixated, and 1,180 tons of non-hazardous soil was taken to the Fitchburg landfill, with another 480 tons of soil determined to be hazardous waste and taken to Canada for disposal.
Harvard resident William Ashe asked how the cleanup fits in with Devens development. Simeone said the former Locust housing area is a commercial redevelopment area and the rest of the surrounding land is controlled by the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
Asked by People Ayer Concerned About the Environment (PACE) representative Laurie Nehring, Welsh said it was a “pretty good job.”
Libby Golden, manager for eastern Massachusetts wildlife for the DFW, said her department may almost use the site as a demonstration area for successful recovery. She said the area will become a gravel parking lot for the Oxbow trailhead, across from the Shirley cemetery. She noted that saplings have now been planted throughout the site.
“I thought it went pretty well, straight forward,” Golden said of the cleanup.