Hanover residents say they’re frustrated with what they see as insufficient details and lingering questions about the ongoing cleanup of a 240-acre property where a fireworks manufacturer and other companies dumped munitions and toxic chemicals for decades.

Dozens of residents attended a meeting Tuesday, Sept. 24 with representatives from the state Department of Environmental Protection, the state Department of Public Health, the town of Hanover and Tetra Tech, the firm handling the cleanup for an update on the progress and options for getting rid of contamination in the groundwater, dirt and sediment.

Resident Robert Fell said the extent of the contamination warrants the U.S. government getting involved in cleaning up the property, which was once considered a surefire candidate for federal Superfund status.

“It all comes back to the same point: ‘We don’t recall what it was.’ ‘We’re not staffed large enough to handle it.’ ‘We’re positive we will figure out where the funding will come from, but we’re not sure yet.’ ‘We don’t know when the report will be ready.’ ‘We don’t know when we’ll get the funding for it.’ ‘This is the only job we’ve dealt with out of our office that is this size,‘” Fell said. “This isn’t a conversation where we should have ‘I don’t knows.’”

While cleanup of the fireworks site has been a priority for the town in recent years, concerns about potential health impacts heightened recently after former Hanover resident Nick Squires came forward with data he collected on brain cancer cases. After being diagnosed in 2015 with a rare brain tumor, Squires said he found 40 people who were diagnosed with brain tumors and who had lived for an extended time within about 2 or 3 miles of the National Fireworks Co. site.

“I feel the munitions is the least of concerns with the 19 chemicals, including vinyl chloride and things like that, which do cause brain cancer,” Squires said Tuesday. “You look at Forge Pond, Lilly Pond and Factory Pond. In my mind you have to drain and dredge those ponds and remove all those contaminants.”

Ron Marnicio of Tetra Tech said the plan is still in the works, but the ponds will be dredged to remove much of the contaminated sediment.

State officials insist there is no risk to the town’s water supply, and access to the site has been limited for several years to prevent people from coming in contact with contaminated soil, sediment or water. Before that, the property was designated as town conservation land and included walking trails open to the public.

“People are not being exposed to the contamination at the fireworks site, and if there’s no exposure, there’s no risk, at this time,” Gerard Martin of MassDEP said. “I can’t speak for what has occurred in the past.”

The National Fireworks Co. began developing, testing and manufacturing civilian fireworks and military munitions at the site near the Hanson town line in 1907, and disposed of chemicals there until it closed in 1971.

The property was then purchased by American Potash and Co., and later the Atlantic Research Corp., a government contractor that produced explosives for the Army and the Navy, and also allowed other entities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to dump hazardous waste there.

In the mid-1980s, the federal Environmental Protection Agency found several dozen barrels of toxic waste around the property and indications that many had been dumped, according to several reports. The toxins found include chloroform, Freon, arsenic, trichloroethene and vinyl chloride.

A variety of heavy metals, including mercury, were found in the soil and water around the former factory, setting off a decades-long effort to clean up 140 acres between King and Winter streets. While the contamination was measured at twice the threshold for earning Superfund status — a federal program that prioritizes and funds the cleanup of hazardous sites — town officials asked the state to oversee the cleanup to avoid the federal process and stigma that would come with it.

In 2014, a state-managed trust was created with $68 million for the work from a $5 billion federal settlement with Anadarko Petroleum.

Officials knew that munition-related debris was probably buried in the former industrial site, but crews found far more undetonated munitions than expected when excavation began in spring 2017, further delaying the process. Workers have now spent about three years digging up and detonating munitions on the property.

Parties who may be responsible for funding the cleanup include Susquehanna Corp., Kerr-McGee Chemical Corp., National Coating Corp., the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the U.S. Department of Defense. Deborah Marshall-Hewlitt of the state Department of Environmental Protection said the attorney general’s office is negotiating with the parties.

“We fully expect that this entire cleanup will be funded,” she said.

Squires said he has little confidence that the cleanup will ever be fully completed if it’s handled at the state level.

“The town and the federal government had an obligation to clean that site up decades ago, and as a result people may have been harmed,” he said.

Marnicio, of Tetra Tech, said designing the chosen remedial action should take about a year, while permitting, procurement and the cleanup itself should take two or three years.

Several residents expressed doubt that the cleanup will happen within the set time frame or budget.

Steve Carroll, former chairman of the Fireworks Site Focus Committee, said he’s a “little more cynical” in the process going forward, particularly regarding the budget and how the money will be used.

Selectman John Barry said residents have no reason to worry, and ultimately the cleanup will be a “good story.”

“I’d be willing to wager nothing would be happening at the site had it gone to the federal government because the bureaucracy would kick in,” he said.

Reach Jessica Trufant at jtrufant@patriotledger.com.