Lyme-Old Lyme Schools to use Long-Term “Pump and Treat” Approach to Oil in the Groundwater

Lyme Street, Old Lyme near Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School (CT Examiner)


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OLD LYME — A new environmental contractor for Lyme-Old Lyme schools is seeking permission from state officials for a “pump and treat” solution for oil contamination in the ground water near the Middle School off Lyme Street.  

In a conference call on Friday with school officials, and David Turner, of Turner Environmental, CT Examiner learned that in the process of investigating an August 2022 spill at the Middle School, Turner had a identified a second significant older spill from the site which he believes is the source of water contamination showing up in test wells adjacent to the school and on nearby private property along Lyme Street. 

Turner assured CT Examiner that no oil contamination had been found in tests of nearby drinking water, and Superintendent Ian Neviaser told CT Examiner that the district’s water supply appears safe, given the directional flow of groundwater and the location of wells used by the district for drinking water.

Turner told CT Examiner that – at the request of state officials – he will install an additional monitoring well on adjacent private property, and has contacted neighbors to seek permission for a suitable location.

Turner Environmental is leading the environmental cleanup for Lyme-Old Lyme Schools after the district fired Kropp Environmental Contractors, the company originally hired to perform the cleanup, in early February.

Kropp is suing the school district, claiming they are owed approximately $92,000 for their work.

An older spill

Turner told CT Examiner, that given low levels of volatile organic compounds and the natural flow of groundwater on the site to the northwest, it was clear that a “plume” of pollution identified in testing was from an old oil holding tank on the south side of the Middle School that had “been there for a couple of decades,” rather than the oil spill in the building’s boiler room last August which the district didn’t bring to the public’s attention until January

“It is clear from the available information that the oil came from the former holding tank. If you look at where that tank was, where the samples were collected, which way groundwater flows, all the oil in soil and groundwater in that area came from the former holding tank that was there,” Turner said during a phone conference with Neviaser, facilities director Ron Turner (no relation to David Turner), and Board of Education Chair Steve Wilson.

A soil sample from an area northwest of the holding tank showed 14,000 milligrams per kilogram of extractable total petroleum hydrocarbons, or ETPH, which Turner called “a high number.” He said the oil was found in a thin stratum of soil below the water table. 

“No contaminants have been detected in any drinking water well, at any time since I’ve taken over the project,” Turner said. 

But he acknowledged that contamination had been found on abutting private property “pretty far from the release,” behind one of the houses with a shallow drinking water well. 

State officials ask for an “early warning” test well

During one of the weekly calls with state officials, Turner said the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection requested the installation of an additional “early warning” well on private property between the plume of contamination and nearby drinking water wells.

Neviaser said the decision to drill the additional test well was not prompted by new data, but was one of many recommendations that are made by state officials almost every week.

“They’ve known about the contaminants in that well much longer than just since our last call, so that is not new information per se that drove that – that just happens to be the information that they are using to make that recommendation” he explained.  

But in a call on Thursday, Neviaser acknowledged that since last summer, the oil plume has possibly moved.

“It’s not in the exact science that you would expect. There’s a lot of theory involved here and a lot of hypotheticals. So yes, there has been oil found or contaminants that would lead you to believe there’s oil in the wells on our property that are, for example, on the opposite side of the building driveway … toward [the Lymes Youth Services Bureau] …  where we have a number of test wells,” he said. “So one could argue that potentially might mean the plume is moving, but there’s not significant evidence to say … it’s going to poison neighbors’ wells tomorrow. It’s not, unfortunately, that exact of a science.”  

Deborah Wade, who lives on Lyme Street near the school, made clear her unhappiness with the situation in a conversation with CT Examiner on Friday. 

“There’s still testing. There’s still oil coming from somewhere .… I just think there’s a lot of neglect here. To me, the superintendent should have been fired, and as for the Board of Education, I don’t know how they come home and sleep at night and know this is still going on,” Wade said.

Wade said that in the 50 years she has lived in her house, no one has gotten sick from the water, but she has purchased bottled water for the past year out of an abundance of caution. 

She also said she’s started looking for an environmental attorney.

“I don’t have a letter that says, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna take care of you if anything happens,’” she said. “If my well gets contaminated, what do I do next?”

Asked whether school officials were considering paying to install deeper drinking water wells for neighboring property owners, Neviaser called that conversation premature. 

“Right now, there is absolutely no evidence to support anything is impacting those wells,” he said. “But we are regularly monitoring them and updating them monthly with those results, so they’re aware of everything that we’re doing.” 

Next steps

Turner told CT Examiner he is applying for permission to implement a “pump and treat” approach that would filter groundwater for contaminants and release it back into the soil over a number of years.

“That pump and treat system would collect groundwater from the release area, and it has several components that would remove oil, and then carbon filter the water so that the concentrations are below anything that would be OK to discharge,” he explained. 

Asked whether the resulting “dewatering” would disrupt nearby wells, Turner said no.

“The way [I] configured the system is that I’d be removing water from the area of the boiler room and I’d be discharging it back to a stormwater retention basin on the school property, which is slightly up gradient of where the release occurred. So the net result would be no removal of water from that aquifer.”

Nevaiser said the cost of the system is fully covered by insurance this year.

He estimated the pump would cost less than $100,000 to install, but would be expensive to operate.

“I think you’re probably looking at total – and this is covered by insurance because we’ve met our deductible – around $300,000 for a pump and treat system if it ran, let’s say, for five years,” he said.

Neviaser said the district hopes to have it running by the end of July, pending permits from which he anticipates to be in hand by July 7.

“That could run for a year, three years, five years, as long as it takes to make sure there’s no oil in any of the water. But that would essentially clean up any leftover oil if there is any in the groundwater and ensure that nobody’s wells are impacted,” he said.

In a report by the district released on May 19, school officials explained that a previous approach to inject “oxygen release compounds” at several sites was currently off the table given the unfavorable “optics” of treating rather than removing groundwater pollution on school property.

According to the report, another solution, to inject activated carbon “in an overlapping pattern in the area where the plume exits from beneath the building, intercepting it and reducing and eliminating the contaminants before they move off-site,” had received an “uneasy” response from state officials, wary of leaving the product in the ground, but was still under consideration by local officials. 

DEEP officials were not able to respond to questions prior to the publication of this story.