The city’s engineer and the fire department were given a late afternoon mystery to solve: Two barrels appeared to have been dumped by the banks of the Quinnipiac River.
Both were marked as containing hazardous waste. Polychlorinated biphenyl or PCB to be exact.
One of those barrels appeared ready to roll into the river at the first sign of a flood, or a good strong push.
Neighborhood activist Ian Christmann discovered the barrels while kayaking on the river. Alarmed, he took pictures and emailed some people.
One of the email recipients, Land Trust chief Justin Elicker, forwarded the mails to city officials ...
... who realized something had to be done. When he got the information Monday, City Engineer Giovanni Zinn made a call to the fire department.
“We take this sort of thing very seriously,” Zinn said. He said there was no telling how long the barrels had been there, who had dumped them and what, if anything, they contained. But that was a mystery that he and the fire department would try to solve Monday.
Assistant Fire Chief Mark Vendetto (pictured with Zinn) and Squad 1 from the Whitney Station, which handles hazmat, quickly made their way to the Fair Haven section of the city where Lloyd Street meets the river. Engine 10 firefighters from the Lombard Street station also responded. A police officer blocked off the street.
Vendetto and crew had arrived before Zinn and already saw a bit of trouble. The street dead-ends into the river. Additionally, a city-owned lot with more than waist-high vegetation was partially cordoned off by a chainlink fence. The only way to get around the fence was to take a path around the edge of the fence that was only big enough to put one foot in front of the other right on a ledge near the river’s edge.
The barrels in questions were likely somewhere buried within those bushes but getting to them could be a problem because the grass had grown nearly to the river making it hard to see what else might be in those bushes. Vendetto and Zinn forged ahead plunging into the bushes and finding a semi-worn footpath likely created by the many fishers who frequent the area. After tromping down the path they emerged into a clearing and found the first of two rusted barrels right where it had been reported. The other one was just up ahead behind a couple of jersey barriers.
Firefighters had emerged on the banks of the river from the James Street side but determined that it would be harder to reach the barrel dumping site from where they were and turned back. After a quick visual inspection by Vendetto and Zinn, it was determined that the barrels weren’t leaking. They also appeared to have been where they had been abandoned for some time.
The two men made their way back so Zinn could make some calls to McVac Environmental on Grand Avenue to see if they could come to check out the barrels and possibly clean them up. McVac has a contract for cleaning catch basins for the city but also provide environmental clean-up and disposal services. Vendetto broke the news to the firefighters waiting on the scene that there were no leaks for them to contain.
A two-man crew arrived from McVac. Then it was another trip back into the bushes for Zinn. The way was made easier thanks to the firefighters, who were able to open the gate without taking off the padlock.
It was quickly determined that there was actually nothing in the barrels but some sample tubes after the men opened them. The men carried the barrel closest to the river nearer to its twin behind the jersey barriers. They promised to be back Tuesday morning to “overpack,” or put the barrels in another container, and cart them away to be disposed of properly.
There were no markings on the barrels that gave any clues about where they came from or who dumped them, but the mystery of whether they were hazardous—they weren’t—and what will happen to them—they will be disposed of properly—was solved. And everybody got to live on to fight another day.