Brownfields assessment confirms drums of sodium cyanide buried near Wilton’s Stony Brook

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Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/27/2021 4:21:20 PM

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services has determined sodium cyanide from former industrial use at a downtown property is buried along the bank of the Stony Brook River in downtown Wilton.

The sodium cyanide is under a concrete cap adjacent to the Wilton Police Department on Main Street. It is currently believed to be contained and not causing any contamination to the surrounding soil or river, but the town has begun to discuss the process for assessing potential future danger and whether it should be removed from the area.

Jennifer Beck, who serves both on Wilton’s Conservation Commission and the Economic Development Team, said there have long been “urban legend, rumor and stories” about potential contaminants in the area, particularly sodium cyanide. When she heard of an opportunity for funding through the National Regional Planning Commission to identify and clean up potential brownfield sites, she applied.

A study of the site done by New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services has revealed that indeed, the Abbott Machine Company, who owned the land in the 1960s, did dispose of sodium cyanide solution salts on the property, contained within drums and furnace boxes, and buried in a concrete structure underground.

There doesn't appear to be immediate danger of leaks, but Beck said the location of the disposal site, so close to two protected waterways, is concerning to her, both as a member of the Conservation Commission and as a resident in town.

“It may not cause a problem ever, but if 20, 50, 200 years go by, and it starts to deteriorate, because even steel and cement are not forever, it could wash down that river, all the way to the ocean,” Beck said.

The NHDES has proposed requesting assistance from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Emergency Planning and Response Branch to remove the potential contamination.

The Town Select Board has issued a letter of support for the agency stepping in, but the process is significantly muddied by the fact that ownership of the property is currently unclear. It appears that at the time the contaminants were disposed of, the land was owned by the Abbott Machine Company, which is no longer in operation. At one point, the company assets were in a trust, which is believed to have been dissolved with no transfer of the assets.

The EPA has the authority to go through a court process to legally gain access to the property in lieu of a viable owner to do an assessment of the risk for contamination, and whether that risk is significant enough to remove the sodium cyanide.

Beck said it’s in the town’s best interest to determine if there is anyone with claim to the property, not only for purposes of the cost of potentially cleaning up the area, but because the property has been eyed as part of the town’s Riverwalk project.

The concrete slab that has capped the site has been proposed to be the site for a pavilion on the Riverwalk, which could host open air concerts.

Beck said the process of determining whether there is a viable owner of the land could lead to clearing the way for the town to eventually take official possession of it for the next phase of development of the Riverwalk. But, before that step, she said, it’s important to be clear about what risks the sodium cyanide might pose to the local ecosystem.

The Select Board voted unanimously to support the NHDES next steps, and to formally request assistance from the agency in assessing the property.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.




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