MIDDLEPORT – The state Department of Environmental Conservation began taking soil samples Monday on the campus of Royalton-Hartland Central School, to try to determine the extent of arsenic contamination in areas not previously excavated.
Superintendent Roger Klatt said the DEC told him that the work will last only this week and involve taking samples two inches in diameter and up to four feet deep.
FMC Corp., whose agricultural chemical plant is directly south of the school property, is not paying for the sampling because of a pending lawsuit in which the company seeks to prevent the state from imposing its plan for a further remediation in the village.
FMC says its alternative plan would be less expensive for itself and less disruptive for the residents by removing less soil and killing fewer trees, shrubs and lawns than the DEC’s version. The DEC and the State Health Department rejected FMC’s proposal, leading to the lawsuit.
The agencies say that enough excavation and new fill is needed to reduce all readings for arsenic in soil below the naturally occurring “background level” of 20 parts per million. FMC says it’s adequate to remove enough soil to lower each individual property’s average to 20 parts per million. The estimated costs are $70 million for the state’s plan, $27 million for the company’s plan. FMC would pay the full cost of either option.
“FMC Corp. remains committed to protecting human health and the environment and implementing an appropriate cleanup plan that minimizes disruption to the Village of Middleport.” the company said in a prepared statement.
Numerous Middleport residents, who have said at public meetings that they haven’t seen any negative health impacts from the arsenic, have expressed the wish that no further digging occur. The DEC decided to allow individual property owners to opt out, leading FMC to argue that shows the situation can’t really be that serious.
As for the Roy-Hart sampling, the DEC issued a “fact sheet” Monday in which it declared that FMC had “refused to do that work.”
FMC rejected that characterization. A company spokesman said, “They have requested a meeting with DEC to discuss the situation, and that meeting has not occurred.”
The argument is over how to deal with 202 properties believed to have acquired elevated arsenic levels because of wind-blown arsenic from FMC’s plant. The properties are in what the agencies call the “air deposition area,” and the school campus is one of them.
There have been six excavations in Middleport in the past 18 years. The school district’s football field and other parts of the campus were excavated in 1996 and 1999, and Klatt said, “They’re testing any area that wasn’t testing in previous years.”
The Board of Education approved the testing at its July meeting. Klatt said the district asked for guidance in case it wanted to do some construction project on campus in the future.
“At this point, we’re not planning any future development,” Klatt said. But he said the district wanted to know, for example, how deep it would have to dig for a foundation or for improvements to an athletic field to avoid trouble with arsenic, and what it would have to do with the soil it might excavate.
“It may reveal any type of remediation is minimal,” Klatt said. “Either way, the data will be helpful.”
“FMC continues to communicate with the district’s superintendent to understand plans the school might have and offered to assist if the school has needs relating to the excavation of soil,” the company’s statement said.