EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 29, 2013

Andover resident says town's water may be tainted

By Bill Kirk

---- — ANDOVER — A man suing the town for the dumping of toxic sludge on his property in 2010 now claims that the town’s water supply may also be contaminated.

James Berberian, of 2-4 Bancroft Road, went before the Board of Selectmen last night and urged town officials to act on what he said was a potential public health emergency.

“There is a significant risk to human health,” he said, as a crowd of more than 50 people, some standing in the hallway, looked on. “This report shows exposure and significant risk to the residents of Andover.”

As he held up a report done by a contractor working for the town, Berberian was gaveled out of order by the chairman of the Board of Selectmen as Town Manager Reginald ‘Buzz’ Stapczynski attempted to talk over him and drown out his words.

“Are you aware of this report?” he asked, as selectmen ignored him and Stapczynski continued to speak about the item that was on the board’s agenda — financing of the Andover Youth Center. “It shows there is arsenic in the (Bancroft School) water tank.”

Eventually, one of the Selectmen called police and Berberian was asked to stop speaking, which he did.

Selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli explained that Berberian couldn’t speak because last night’s meeting was a one-item agenda to discuss changes to the contract between Selectmen and the Andover Youth Foundation over financing of the teen center.

Several people gathered in the hallway after the meeting said they were there to get answers and to support Berberian.

“There is arsenic in the water supply and it was dumped near two schools,” said Kevin Doyle, of 311 Lowell St., Andover, referring to the Bancroft School and Phillips Academy. He said he is concerned about the health of three of his children who went to Bancroft School.

Stapczynski, reached after the meeting, said he couldn’t comment on the case because it is in federal court.

When told that Berberian is claiming there may be arsenic in the town water supply, the town manager replied, “if he’s saying that, tell him to prove it. ... All those questions were answered years ago.”

The case goes back to a November 2010 incident when water department employees were cleaning out the 6 million-gallon water storage tank at the Bancroft School as part of routine maintenance on the water system.

However, town workers were videotaped by Berberian dumping dark-colored water into leaking trucks and into a nearby storm drain. That drain flowed down Bancroft Road and onto Berberian’s property at the corner of South Main Street.

The brownish water contained dark sediment which ended up settling in a wetland on Berberian’s property. When that sediment was tested, it showed high levels of toxic metals, including arsenic, cadmium and nickel, among others.

The town attempted to clean up Berberian’s property, but he claimed that some sediment remains. He then sued the town in federal court over what he said was a violation of the federal Clean Water Act for discharging contaminated water into a wetland. The case remains in federal court.

Several attempts to settle the case between the town and Berberian have failed. Just last week, the Board of Selectmen met in executive session to discuss a possible settlement. Berberian said last night he hasn’t heard back from the town since that meeting.

For more on this story, read this week’s edition of The Andover Townsman.