ATTLEBORO — Highland Park is safe was the message city councilors got from an environmental consultant and Mayor Paul Heroux last week.
The message was delivered after an anonymous letter was circulated, apparently to council candidates, raising questions about an environmental report which seemed to indicate the soil had dangerous levels of contaminants and was an “imminent hazard.”
The report was written by FS Engineers out of Acton, but an analyst hired by the city said statements in the report were misleading at best and false at worst.
“Unfortunately there are some untrue statements in that report and some improper wording regarding the term “imminent hazard,” consultant Doug Heely of ES & M Environmental said. “It was poor writing and not being thorough.”
FS Engineers did not respond to a request by The Sun Chronicle for comment.
Heroux hired Heely, who has been an environmental consultant for the Attleboro Redevelopment Authority for more than a decade, when questions were raised.
Heely referenced a couple of statements in the FS report including one that pronounced unrestricted access to the property would require notification to MassDEP “under the imminent hazard (2-hour) notification requirement.”
“It is not true that if the property is used as a parkland, with or without a fence, that notification to MassDEP is required,” Heely told the council during his presentation.
He submitted the results of 16 soil tests which showed that all samples were below levels deemed hazardous.
Three contaminants in particular were discussed.
Heely said levels of arsenic, lead and chromium were all below standards for residential use, which is the strictest standard.
That means the land is safe for homes and parks.
The lead and arsenic came from pesticides applied to the property in its previous life as a golf course.
Those chemicals were banned in the 1980s, but they disappear very slowly from the soil, Heely said.
It’s not known how the chromium was deposited on the site, but the two kinds found, chromium-3 and hexavalent chromium, were well below levels considered dangerous.
Councilor Kate Jackson asked Heely if the park is safe and Heely said “yes.”
Heroux said he believes the anonymous letter is an election year stunt and was aimed at him. The writer claimed information was “suppressed.”
Election season is “silly season,” the mayor said.
“I don’t want to get wrapped up in the pettiness of it,” he said. “I’m trying to rise above it.”
The contamination was first reported in August and there was an article in The Sun Chronicle.
City and environmental officials declared the property safe at that time.
Heely also addressed a concern that the golf course had been irrigated by water from Mechanics Pond which is downstream from the Walton & Lonsbury Superfund site on North Avenue.
He said it’s impossible to know what contaminants were in that water, but if there were issues, they would have showed up in the soil tests.
“We can well surmise that we’d see it in the upper soil zone,” he said, referring the 16 soil samples taken throughout the golf course.
Heely said he’s confirmed his results with Gerard Martin, section chief at MassDEP in Lakeville.
“We’re 100 percent on the same page,” he said.
The soil samples were originally taken in connection with the construction of a parking lot for workers building the new high school which is going next to the current high school on Rathbun Willard Drive across the street from Highland.
Heroux said he’s satisfied with the report issued by Heely.
“I’m going with the experts and professionals,” he said. “They are the subject matter experts.”