‘Feed the Bugs’:Market Forge Site Incorporates Bacteria to Clean Up Contamination

By Seth Daniel

There’s something about Mother Nature – she knows how to clean house.

That’s exactly the case at the Market Forge site on Garvey Street where a developer is taking a unique approach to cleaning up contaminating chemicals in the soil – a process known as bioremediation. Using a unique bacteria – known in the profession as bugs – that can exist without oxygen, Licensed Site Professional (LSP) Ralph Tella of Lord Associates said they plan to clean up harmful chlorinated cleaning products stuck deep in the soil by “juicing” up the appetite of microbes already eating at the chemicals.

“It’s really pretty remarkable,” he said on the site this week. “I like solutions that rely on what is already happening. Mother Nature is clearly doing this. We’re just going to speed it up. You can introduce bacteria and that’s a whole market that is evolving. You don’t need to. These bugs we now know are there and you just need to stimulate them. The big revelation is these bugs are down there and eating chlorinated hydrocarbons. There was speculation there was a community of microbes that could survive without oxygen and eat chlorinated hydrocarbons. About 10 to 15 years ago, they found them. It’s like Mother Nature sends these bugs where they need to go. It’s amazing.”

Mayor Carlo DeMaria said the process at Market Forge holds out hope for many other contaminated sites throughout Everett that were considered unsalvageable a few decades ago.

“In Everett, we have a number of brownfield properties that we are trying to redevelop,” said Mayor Carlo DeMaria. “The costs of capping or trucking contaminated soil off site are enormous and can limit that redevelopment. Bioremediation has the potential to revolutionize the way deal with those brownfields. It offers us a faster, cheaper, and better way to repurpose and redevelop obsolete or abandoned properties. I am thrilled that this is happening in our community.”

Market Forge is owned by 35 Garvey Street LLC, which is controlled by Dr. Elias Zavaro of Wellesley and another business partner. They purchased the property about one year and hired Tella’s company, of Norwood, about that same time. Earlier this year, they tore down the old metal building that covered most of the site. The hope is to develop the 4.3 acre site into a residential and commercial development that would sit on a key parcel connecting Chelsea with Everett – and potentially a stop on the Silver Line extension, which is already coming to Chelsea and ends close by at the Market Basket.

Prior to the current ownership, a previous owner began the process of cleaning up the site and did a large amount of testing and sampling. However, for reasons unknown, the former owners did not take any further steps in cleaning it up. Even so, their research formed a basis for concluding the there were heavy metals contaminating most of the site at lower levels, but that there were “hot spots” on the site containing a chlorine-based degreasing chemical. When Market Forge – which in its most recent iteration made ovens for the Army – was in business, large vapor degreasing units were located at several places on the site. Those units used the chlorinated cleaning agent to clean tools and parts. However, the cleaning agent was very toxic, and though that sin of the past is now replaced in modern manufacturing by a harmless chemical, the old chemical remains in the ground stuck in an impenetrable layer of marine clay and silt.

That said, the slow natural process of ridding the soil of that harmful chemical has already begun naturally by bacteria that can survive in harsh environments without oxygen. Those bacteria have already started breaking down the chlorinated chemical very slowly.

Through a process of “feeding” the bacteria by introducing a fertilizer compound and an iron additive, Tella said they will speed up the process in order to remediate the “hot spots” up to the standards of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Using insitu- technology, they will introduce the additive to the bacteria by blending and mixing up the soil using special digging equipment. It’s a process that is rare, but not unheard of in the world of pollution clean up.

“The microbes are already there and doing their thing,” he said. “We can see that, but it’s happening very slowly. We want to accelerate it by putting in additives – a catalyst – to speed it up. That’s what these bacteria want. It’s serving up a good meal for them. Still, the process will be ongoing for a long time – probably 100 years or so.”

In the meantime, however, the developer plans to pursue an activity use limitation (AUL) so that they can cap the rest of the contamination and build above it. Because the groundwater is so close to the surface, and it’s also influenced by the ocean tides, there is no way to build a basement or underground parking garage.

“The plan now is to develop the property and the client has some very interesting ideas,” Tella said. “They want to move fast. What is terrific is he is talking about a housing complex with retail that would have a ground level parking area that acts like a cap on the site. It’s really an ideal future use for the property.”

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