By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — Selectmen have authorized the state Department of Environmental Services to test for possible groundwater contamination at Hedgehog Park and surrounding areas.
The state recently notified the town it was concerned about the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, and wanted to install a monitoring well at the popular Route 38 park.
No current sources of drinking water have been affected. But the town’s former backup water supply, Turner Well, is contaminated with low levels of MTBE.
Salem never used the well for drinking water before terminating a longtime agreement with its owner in December because the water cannot be consumed, according to Town Manager Keith Hickey.
Groundwater on surrounding properties has been contaminated for decades because of several auto-related businesses that have operated there, including a gas station, according to DES petroleum remediation manager Gary Lynn.
But now, environmental officials are concerned about the flow of contaminated water and the DES will have to assess whether it must be removed, Lynn said.
“More recently, we found the MTBE deeper in the ground than we had previously,” he said Tuesday.
MTBE, which is known to cause cancer in large amounts, gives water an unpleasant odor and taste.
The state has hired an environmental consulting firm, Weston Solutions Inc., to conduct testing at Hedgehog and about a half-dozen surrounding industrial properties, Lynn said. He said the state has been monitoring groundwater on the industrial land since at least 1996.
Weston is beginning the installation of 11 monitoring wells in the area this week. A well, approximately 40 feet deep, will be drilled near the picnic area at Hedgehog. Testing will last through summer and is being paid for through the New Hampshire Ether Fund.
Two representatives from Weston’s Concord office, Bette Nowack and Andrew Klappholz, appeared before selectmen Monday night to seek approval for the work.
Selectmen granted the request unanimously with the condition that town’s attorney approve of the agreement. Selectman Stephen Campbell said he was concerned because the town, not the state, would be liable if there were any problems because of the monitoring well.
“I don’t think that’s the kind of agreement we usually sign,” Campbell said. “Without this being run by town counsel, I don’t we should be ready to sign this because we are not lawyers.”
Campbell was also concerned about children stepping in the well and getting hurt, but was told the well would be flush to the ground and only 2 inches wide.
Selectman Patrick Hargreaves asked that the firm test the water at Hedgehog, which was not part of the state’s original plan. Water from the pond and the supply serving the park’s restrooms will be tested.
The water there has been shut off while the park is closed for the season, Hickey said Tuesday. If the testing reveals contamination, the town will make sure to take any action is necessary to resolve the problem, he said.