Man claims he saw thousands of barrels buried in late 1960's while he worked for barrel hauler.
FALL RIVER - It is one of the city's great urban legends, a tale tarnished in time and trash. Everyone has heard a story of what is buried in the landfill.
But one man, who approached WSAR with “Something to get off my chest,” is now adding to the tale with a richness in detail that if true, could very well be the origins of the contamination that has impacted the area for decades infecting the aquifer touched by Mother’s Brook.
The man, said in his teens, in the late 1960’s, he worked for a “Barrel Truck” enterprise: An all cash barrel dumping industry that ran in the city transporting 55 gallon drums from nearby factories to a reserved dumping area outside of the municipal landfill boundary.
“If there are not 1,000 barrels buried there, there’s not one,” said the source, a former public office holder, now retired from his profession, who as a young teenager took a job as a barrel truck assistant for a long deposed company on Chaveson Street in Fall River. He worked for one of two companies who provided the barrel hauling service to the factories during the winter of 1968 and 1969, traveling a route between major regional manufacturers picking up their vessels of chemicals and disposing of them in a woody area separating the phase one area of the landfill and what are now a series of abutting businesses in the Industrial Park.
It is the same general area that Mayor William Flanagan has proposed opening up for further landfill expansion. It is also in the general area where the Department of Environmental Protection’s own reports show the origins of an underground chemical plume traveling north west towards the Taunton River and Assonet Bay, according to GreenFutures archives.
The source said it was the winter before he was sent to Vietnam and he was unemployed when he jumped at the chance to work for “ $15 a day cash-money.”
His job put him on a flatbed truck charged with helping the middle-aged driver load and unload 55-gallon drums from loading docks into the trucks and into the Earth. Among their stops on a daily basis were big name manufacturers, Globe Manufacturing, Roma Manufacturing, Polaroid in New Bedford and a company he forgot the name of in Warwick. There were others, but time has faded their names from his memory. It has been 44 years.
The source, a man with speckled hair, said the operation entailed a total of two trucks making two dumping trips a day.
“We would drive in and stop at the shack and the guy would come out to the truck and he would say: ”you know where to dump it.”
“It was not in the same place you would go with your household trash items,” said the source.
When asked if there was money exchanged the source said he did not know exact details as to how much money was passed around to the workers on duty running the dumpsite for the city.
“It was an all cash operation,” he said.
Instead of taking their trash to an area which would become the smaller hill on the landfill footprint which at the time, people used to drive down and into, the barrel truckers were directed due west from the “shack” along a road that led to large decompressed area in the ground that was circular. It was the size of a small little league baseball field. It was there that they would not only dump full barrels into the pit - which he estimated to be roughly 35-45 feet deep - but also the contents of the barrels themselves.
In a strange twist, some barrels were deemed recyclable.
“We were told to dump them out and then we would take them to East Providence. There was a company there that would clean them out and paint them and sell them back to the factories,” said the source.
He said he worked there for four or five months until one day, the reality of what he was doing set in.
“Someone told me to be careful because if the contents of the barrels got mixed, they could explode,” he said, no longer remembering who told him that.
He said that during the past two weeks as conversations emerged of tainted groundwater and soil on WSAR, his stomach turned. He suspects his past work at a time when there were few if any regulations on landfills and the general public was generally unaware of the dangers of chemicals, he played a role in the story that he is not proud of.
“I need to clear my conscience, “ he said asking that he not be identified.
He did not even wish to be recorded until nudged. After a few minutes he agreed to allow his voice to be used with a slight distortion.
It is a tough story to verify through traditional channels. Most of those involved in this tale are long dead. No one in City Government was in office at the time. It was an all cash operation. While many people know of the owner of his former company, “Harold the Barrel” as he was known, few can recall how long his operation existed except that by the end of the 1970’s it was gone. City Councilor Ray Mitchell could only shake his head while listening to the interview. He knew of Harold the Barrel and stated outright that he was a man of considerable means.
“He did very well,” said Mitchell. “I remember the barrel trucks. I never really thought much of it.”
While the source says that some people may not believe his tale, he adds that his story can be easily verified with ground penetrating radar and other modern techniques for seeing underground without disturbing the contents.
Meanwhile, DEP is remaining tight-lipped about the landfill contamination and their role in having the landfill extended in 2003.
(The above image is from a 2003 DEP report on the contaminated area)
The DEP won a court case forcing Fall River to accept the landfills phase three operations after it had been closed for months. DEP has told local representatives that the contamination is not major, yet their own reports point to the area as having been contaminated and monitored for decades.In 2001, the city was told by a firm it hired to test the ground waters that there were a number of chemicals detected in the monitoring wells as well as Mother's Brook.
Kevin Miller, the director of chemistry and toxicology for Fuss & O'Neil Inc., reported discovery of 55 "potential contaminants" found among 23 landfill monitoring wells. Of the 55 contaminants, Miller said, "mercury, cyanide, lead and selenium were found in three of the test wells located on the landfill site."
But just what is the cause of consternation remains a buried reality.