LAWRENCE — The large, brick building is shuttered and marked with large X's warning firefighters to stay out should a blaze erupt. But a work crew was inside the former water treatment plant at 391 Water St. yesterday, starting a chemical cleanup that will cost taxpayers $18,000.

Various chemicals, some hazardous, were found in the building during emergency inspections last spring. The building was decommissioned in the spring of 2007 after a new treatment plant was built and opened on April 3 that year.

Yesterday, a four-man crew from Veolia Environmental Services loaded chemicals into large totes to be hauled away and disposed of at a licensed transfer station. Veolia will "dispose and transport various chemical wastes (hazardous and non-hazardous)," according to a copy of the contract signed by David Camasso, city comptroller, and Carolyn Traficanti, purchasing agent.

A barrel of hazardous waste found inside the old plant in the spring was immediately removed. A subsequent inspection revealed jars, bottles and ripped bags of chemicals that were left behind.

The inspections were triggered by the discovery of hazardous waste from a December 2005 mercury spill that was left in a pumping station on the other side of the city in the Mount Vernon neighborhood. Two sealed, 55-gallon drums, one marked both "hazardous waste" and "mercury," were found in the pumping station on South Street, off Route 28 near the Andover line.

A barrel of contaminated materials, believed to be connected with the mercury spill, also was being stored in the old water treatment plant, officials said.

The mercury was immediately removed from the buildings and to date, it remains unclear why it was stored on city property for so long. The city paid another $4,600 for that disposal.

Before it closed in 2007, the water treatment plant was the subject of scrutiny by state and federal regulators for several years. Construction of the new plant was prompted by a federal consent order to meet water quality standards.

Future use of the building is unclear.

In March 1999, a federal grand jury indicted the city's former water chief, William J. McCarthy, on charges he faked the results of tests of the city's water quality. McCarthy pleaded guilty to 18 counts of filing false test results last year and received two years of probation.


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