BERLIN – Contaminated soil has been removed from Berlin Falls Park following a chemical spill last week.
A small section of Berlin Falls Park remains fenced-off this week in the wake of a spill of what is believed to be caustic acid. Mayor Gee Williams issued a statement acknowledging the incident this week.
“A chemical spill was located adjacent to two ponds in Berlin Falls Park on Wednesday, June 27,” Williams said. “The Town of Berlin immediately contacted hazardous materials crews who were in the park Wednesday evening to begin cleaning up the spill. Chesapeake Environmental Services (CES) completed the clean-up of the impacted area by early Friday evening.”
Williams said the town had contacted the Maryland Department of the Environment as well.
“Although all chemicals at the site of the spill were removed, a 6-foot chain link fence has been constructed around the spill site,” Williams said. “The ponds were tested, and no chemicals were found. In addition, silt fencing and an absorbent buffer was established along the perimeter of the spill area to prevent any impacts to the adjacent pond during the excavation work. The Town also contacted the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) upon discovery of the chemical spill. Representatives of MDE visited the spill site throughout the clean-up process. The Town of Berlin is working with CES to determine if there are any other chemicals at any location in Berlin Falls Park and for the removal of any such materials, if found.”
Town Administrator Laura Allen said it wasn’t clear how long the affected area of the park would be fenced off.
“The idea is to keep the area segregated for everyone’s protection,” she said, adding that the contaminated soil had been removed and replaced.
The chemical spill, which came to the attention of town officials after a photo on Facebook showed dead turtles in what looked like a pool of oil, occurred in the midst of the demolition of several small buildings at the park. The buildings, primarily pumphouses, were leftover from the park’s days as a chicken processing plant. Allen said officials were still looking into how the spill had occurred.
“Our first responsibility, appropriately, was to address the spill and get the site remediated,” she said. “We’re looking into the responsibility aspect.”
Kathy Phillips, executive director of Assateague Coastal Trust, said she sent the town an email advising them of hazardous material concerns at the park May 20. She said she was sent photos of exposed barrels of sulfuric acid and broken bags of industrial grade sodium nitrate exposed to the elements. They were reportedly located just inside the park’s entrance while the spill that occurred last week is between the second and third pond.
“These bags should be removed immediately using proper HAZMAT protocols and the ground they have been lying on should be barricaded to prevent animal or human contact until the area has been properly decontaminated,” Phillips wrote in an email to the mayor and Dave Wheaton, the town’s superintendent of public works.
Phillips said she was advised by the mayor’s office the situation was under control and was being taken care of. When asked about it this week, Williams said he didn’t remember Phillips’ specific concerns.
Williams stressed that the first step following the spill was cleaning it up. In the coming weeks the town will investigate how it happened.
“The circumstances related to the cause of the spill have not yet been determined,” he said.
Williams said officials did believe the chemical that had been spilled was caustic acid.
“I believe it was used in the process of breaking down the stuff that came out of the processing plant many years ago,” he said. “You don’t want to be around it no matter who or what you are.”
Williams said he had no idea that such a chemical was on the property.
“I’m surprised there was that kind of chemical on the property. I never heard about it,” he said. “Some surprises are not what we hoped they would be.”