Berlin Super Fund Site A Continuing Concern

The die-off of the North Country’s paper mill industry has left economic scars on the North Country.  But as NHPR’s Amy Quinton recently reported, it’s also left environmental scars.  And we’re only now learning the shape of them,

“A toxic waste site in Berlin, New Hampshire continues to leak mercury into the Androscoggin River…

The EPA listed it as a federal Superfund site six years ago.  But the EPA has just begun its investigation to determine if the site poses any health risks, and how it can be cleaned up.”

Quinton reports the super fund in question is the former ChlorAlikali plant in Berlin.

From the 1890’s until the 1960’s, paper companies produced chlorine and other caustic chemicals for use in paper manufacturing.  The companies disposed of toxic chemicals and metals like mercury, lead, and dioxins on site.  Darryl Luce, with the EPA, says even though the last building was demolished is 1999, mercury is still leaking from contaminated groundwater and soil.

Chris Jensen / NHPR

Dartmouth researchers examining the effects of mercury on aquatic life at Berlin super fund site.

‘The site itself now is a four point six acre area of wood chips, two feet of wood chips, it sits on top of an impermeable liner, cap, the hope at the time when they closed the facility, that was back in 1999, they had hoped that that would cut off the flow, but it never did.’

Over the next seven years, New Hampshire environmental officials and the property owners removed more than 135 pounds of mercury and mercury-containing soils from the river and its bank.”

According to Quinton, a big concern for the Dartmouth scientists who are studying the mercury’s effects on the Androscoggin is “biomagnification.”  That’s what happens when mercury enters the water, and creatures low on the food chain, like bugs, ingest a small amount.  The animals that eat those bugs take in even more mercury, and the animals that eat them get an even larger dose.   

Since the Androscoggin is a fast-flowing river, there’s also concern about mercury migrating downstream.  Quinton reports the investigation expected to wrap-up in about a year.  Then, the EPA can decide on how best to clean up the site.


About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »