EPA Makes Progress with Meddybemps Superfund Site

An unusual artifact found in four pieces at N'tolonapemk, archeologists believe it is 4,300 years old. Each piece weathered differently. When it was made it would have been the same color. (Image from N’tolonapemk: Our Relatives’ Place)

By Lura Jackson

The EPA has issued an update on N’tolonapemk, also known as the Eastern Surplus Superfund site in Meddybemps. The site was used for a storage and salvage yard for decades before being declared an environmental Superfund site, meaning it had high levels of toxicity and was thus a high priority for the governmental organization to remediate. The process of environmental remediation has been successful and its end is in sight, depending on how well the most recent efforts are received by the land.

Cleansing the contamination

The Meddybemps site was first used as a storage area for hazardous materials beginning in 1946, according to the EPA. In 1985 it was identified as an uncontrolled hazardous substance site and was targeted for cleanup. “In the late 1980s and 1990s, all the hazardous waste on the property was transported off-site to licensed facilities,” provided Terry Connelly of the EPA.

Two areas on the site were identified for cleanup: a southern area along the highway which had groundwater contamination and a northern area (where work is currently underway) that experienced bedrock contamination. Per Connelly, the southern area reached its remediation goals in 2010. Removing harmful chemicals from bedrock is a more difficult task. The EPA originally identified pumping the groundwater to gradually remove it, but an alternative option – bioremediation – was also on the table.

Bioremediation involves introducing microbes to a contaminated site to effectively clean it without the use of heavy machinery or other intrusive means. A bioremediation pilot study was conducted at the Meddybemps site in 2012-13 to see if it was a viable option for the northern area. After monitoring the success of the bioremediation option through 2016, the EPA has opted to deploy it in a larger scale, which it will be doing over the next four years.

The EPA is employing an enhanced technique at the site, Connelly explained.  “The term that is used in the trade to describe this is ‘enhanced in situ bioremediation’ where the goal is to optimize the destruction of the contamination by enhancing the natural biological activities of existing microorganisms.”

Step by step, the site has been recovering from its contamination. “The big-picture view of the site is that the agencies are continuing active efforts to restore the groundwater,” Connelly said. “Ongoing monitoring has shown the contamination has not spread beneath the river and the contaminants are not impacting the river.”

Native American cultural significance and collaborative cleanup

Prehistoric Native American artifacts and signs of consistent use over 8,000 years have been verified in the location, giving the site its name, N’tolonapemk (meaning “Our Relatives’ Place” in Passamaquoddy). Since being first identified in the 1960s by archeologists and then excavated in the early 2000s, the site has been recognized as the largest archeological deposit in Washington County.

The cleanup required by the contaminated site necessitated the removal of the Native artifacts from N’tolonapemk. More than 220 square meters were excavated during the careful task of removal and cataloging. The artifacts were initially housed with the Abbe Museum in anticipation of the tribe’s own museum gaining certification.

 

To the Passamaquoddy and their precursors, N’tolonapemk was a village, a thriving area located along the vast waterways of the rivers and lakes spreading across Eastern Maine. Tribal Historian Donald Soctomah wrote the following in response to the cleanup efforts, which was originally published in N’tolonapemk: Our Relatives’ Place’. “For many years, the tribal voice was not heard. Now, the voices for a clean environment on the Dennys River and Meddybemps Lake have been heard and action has been taken to return the site to its natural setting. The EPA and its contractors are to be commended for the cleanup of this site, working hand in hand with the Passamaquoddy government for the recovery and respectful treatment of the artifacts. The future of the N’tolonapemk Site is very important to the Passamaquoddy people. Tribal people need to be involved in archaeology so we can have a voice and control in the groundwork while we look for links to our past. The tribal people who were involved in this project say it is very important to stay involved, especially to continue this time of cultural healing with our artifacts and traditions.”