Salem Town Forest cleanup continues

MADELINE HUGHES/Staff Photo. Staff from the Boston office of the Environmental Protection Agency were at the Hummingbird Lane entrance to the Salem Town Forest about a month ago survey the illegally dumped 55-gallon barrels. 

SALEM, N.H. — About a month after the Environmental Protection Agency declared an emergency to clean up 33, 55-gallon barrels that were abandoned in the Salem Town Forest last February, the barrels are still there and the federal agency is still waiting to find out what's in them. 

The EPA placed the drums, which were in poor condition after being exposed to the elements for more than a year, in new containers. 

“While we were on site moving (and containing) the drums we did do sampling and found nothing of concern,” said Kelsey Dumville, a spokesperson with the EPA's public affairs office in Boston.

There was no evidence in soil samples that the chemical leaked from the barrels, Dumville said.

Dumville explained that once the contents are determined, the EPA will put out a contract to hire someone to dispose of the drums.

After being alerted about the barrels on a Monday morning, the EPA moved in swiftly to start the clean-up process. Officials were on site the following Wednesday for a survey, and they made the emergency declaration to speed up the drums' removal.

Someone illegally disposed of the drums on a snowy February night in 2018, according to town officials. The barrels had their labels stripped, and local, state and federal officials have yet to determine who did the dumping.

The chemical inside the drums is believed to be spray foam insulation. It is potentially harmful if swallowed, or if it comes into contact with skin, according to information provided by the state Department of Environmental Services.

In the winter of 2018, the nearby homes on Hummingbird Lane were under construction, local builder Steve Hatem said. He was the first person to report the barrels to Salem officials.

Builders working nearby did not use spray foam insulation in any of the houses, Hatem told The Eagle-Tribune. He explained that it is an expensive product that wouldn't be used unless a homeowner specifically asked for it.

Because the drums were found on town land, the Conservation Commission was tasked with finding a way to remove them. The estimated cost was $23,000, according to the commission.

The EPA is funding the removal of the barrels. Now the commission is weighing their options to ensure something similar doesn’t happen again.

The commission is considering placing a gate at the entrance to the forest, according to Karri Makinen, the community services coordinator. Currently the commission is getting estimates for a gate. 

“We look forward to seeing it all cleaned up and taken care of,” Makinen said.