As a precautionary measure, the Environmental Protection Agency will test soils at Pirone Park this summer.
The park abuts a site that formerly housed a tannery and the testing is being done to ensure that none of the potentially harmful materials from that facility migrated there, said EPA testing coordinator Alex Sherron.
“We’re looking to see if there are any metals in the surface soil,” Sherron said. “This is basically a precautionary testing. We just want to make sure.”
Although contaminants have not been found at Pirone Park to date, the former tannery is strongly suspected of introducing high levels of mercury into nearby Grove Pond and of causing metals to appear in the pond’s sediment as well. Sherron said those circumstances were factors in the decision to test Pirone Park, stressed there was no evidence of contamination at this point.
The 28-acre park complex holds a number of playing fields, with the “lower” baseball diamond, at the eastern end of the complex, abutting the former tannery property, said Parks Commissioner Tim Taylor.
He said the commission has been assured that any disturbances to the park grounds from testing will be restored and that the testing would not interfere with scheduled events this summer.
While Taylor conceded the ballpark abuts the old tannery property, he said contamination unlikely for several reasons.
First, the ballpark in question was created by moving significant amounts of earth toward the tannery property, which makes surface contamination unlikely. Also, the tannery sat on the far side of the abutting property, with pond drainage running east from there, away from Pirone Park. Taylor acknowledged that subterranean migration of chemicals could have taken place, but said groundwater tests to date have not shown any contamination.
Still, the testing will take place.
“I would like to know if there is contamination there,” Taylor said. “I would be astounded if the park itself were poisoned somehow.”
According to online material from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the tannery discharged most of its process wastewater directly into Grove Pond from the mid-1900s through 1953. As a result, areas of pond sediment have heightened levels of metal contaminants, especially in the pond’s northwest corner near the former tannery, and at the pond’s center. Much lower levels of metal contaminants have also been found along the shoreline of Pirone Park, although the water itself is within acceptable levels.
Metals found in the sediment included arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese and zinc. Although some of those metals were found in concentrations that are potentially carcinogenic, they are not readily absorbed through the skin and were not judged to be a health hazard so long as “significant dermal contact” — in this case swimming — were avoided.
Also of concern were abnormally high mercury levels in fish, which limits the pond to catch-and-release fishing only. The report said warnings around the pond against swimming and eating the fish were posted in the early 1990s and the pond is not a hazard to public health if those warnings are observed.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
State Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Ed Colleta confirmed that conditions stated in the report still exist.
“As long as you keep to those particular guidelines, there would be no particular health concerns there,” he said.
Colleta said it’s his understanding the EPA tests will be completed later this year.
On a local level, town administrator Shaun Suhoski said the selectmen have taken a keen interest in this current round of testing.
“The town has requested from the EPA copies of any reports that come out of it,” Suhoski said.