LEEDS — An abandoned scrap-metal yard on Blue Rock Road is so hazardous that federal environmental officials this week placed it on the Superfund's National Priorities List.
Leeds Metal is a former scrap-metal recycling facility that was most active between 1969 and 1984, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection's website. When it was running, the facility accepted cars and other items, separating out recyclable metal and leaving behind piles of nonrecyclable metals and other materials.
The 36-acre property is owned by Pan Am Railways, formerly Guilford Rail, though the rail company did not operate the facility. It leased the land to a series of companies, and those companies were responsible for running the scrap yard, according to the Maine DEP.
"When the process became more closely regulated, then the facility went out of business," DEP Project Manager Kathy Howatt said. "It's not operational anymore, and all that is left of the operations are these piles of waste."
A representative for Pan Am Railways did not immediately return a message left at her Massachusetts office Friday.
The property, which is next to a residential neighborhood, contains piles of scrap metal and other material. Chlorinated solvents have been found in area groundwater, causing the DEP to regularly monitor the drinking water of some homes. DEP officials are also concerned about lead and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, at the site, particularly since the property is easily accessible to children and those chemicals can be dangerous.
The Maine DEP asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take a look at the site and its toxicity. This week, the EPA agreed it was dangerous and placed Leeds Metal, along with 12 other sites across the country, on the Superfund's cleanup priority list.
"The department is pleased," Howatt said. "And from what I understand from the town and the residents, they're pleased as well."
The EPA will try to identify the people responsible for the site's contamination and compel them to pay for its cleanup. If the EPA can't find those responsible and the site contamination is bad enough, it could pay for the cleanup with federal money.
The EPA said it could take several years before federal cleanup funding is required.
Superfund is a federal program that investigates and cleans up the worst hazardous waste sites in the country. Nearly 1,700 sites have been named to the National Priorities List since 1983. Of those, 360 have been cleaned up.