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EPA and MassDEP Provide Update on Environmental Monitoring Following Uxbridge Fire


In response to the massive fire that broke out on July 21st at the Bernat Mill in Uxbridge, Mass., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) have been continuously monitoring the area to assess air and water quality impacts that may have resulted from the eight-alarm blaze. Before the fire destroyed a vast majority of the 350,000 sq. foot mill, it housed over 65 small businesses.

EPA and MassDEP personnel and contractors have been on-site at the mill complex since Saturday morning. EPA has been monitoring the air for particulate matter (soot), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are organic gases that can be emitted from a large array of products, carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen sulfide. In addition, EPA conducted at least six rounds of air samples to test for airborne asbestos and metals concentrations.

With the exception of a small number of sample readings indicating elevated levels of particulates that were collected downwind from the fire on Saturday afternoon, none of the air samples or monitoring have shown levels of concern to public health. The elevated levels of particulate matter shown by EPA’s monitors around the site on Saturday prompted local police, fire and public health officials to inform residents to consider evacuation or shelter-in-place until air-quality improved.

MassDEP continues to monitor water quality in the Mumford River, to determine if runoff water and oil from the fire site have impacted the river and its resources.

MassDEP has emergency contractors maintaining containment booms at six locations downstream from the fire site on the Mumford and Blackstone rivers to capture debris and floating oil on the surface.

The contractors are vacuuming oil off the surface of the river closest to the fire scene to aid in oil recovery from the river and at the Depot Street Bridge. An estimated 700 gallons of oil has been removed from the river to date.

MassDEP has sampled for water quality in the two rivers since Saturday, and results from samples taken Saturday and Sunday indicated the presence of VOCs, metals and heavy metals. Some of these results were above drinking water standards, however the Blackstone River is not a source of drinking water for any municipality or private system and these levels would not suggest a significant threat to wildlife. Additional sampling will take place this week to determine if water quality is improving.

No impacts have been detected to the Uxbridge groundwater wells downstream near the river, but the wells there have temporarily been shut down as a precaution.


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