O.B. testing finds lead in park samples

Consultant sees ‘no significant risk,’ recommends no further action.

A town consultant recommends no further lead testing for Telegraph Hill Park. — Rich Saltzberg

In a report on Telegraph Hill Park soil testing, a town environmental consultant found lead was pervasive, but not in concentrations that exceeded key action levels. That consultant, Sovereign Consulting of Foxborough, recommended no further action unless there is a change of use.

“Based on the current uses of the East Chop Lighthouse property as a historic attraction and as site for passive recreation, and with an average soil concentration of 224.18mg/kg (milligrams per kilogram), which falls below the MassDEP [Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection] cleanup standard, the soils present onsite are considered to pose no significant risk, as defined by MassDEP,” the report states.

The lead in the soil is believed to come from the lighthouse paint, or paint from other Coast Guard structures that once existed nearby the lighthouse. 

The $3,400 sampling job came after a consultant for the U.S. Coast Guard got a 16,600 ppm (parts per million, equal to milligrams per kilograms) test result from a sample taken inside Telegraph Hill Park on the edge of the small federal parcel East Chop Light sits on. The test result was many times higher than MassDEP and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) action levels. A report on older sampling of soil around the lighthouse puts the 16,600 ppm result in some context. The older report described test sample results in the 3,000 ppm range as “significantly above” EPA standards

Lead is a neurotoxic heavy metal. It is particularly dangerous to children. According to the Centers for Disease Control, some of the “well-documented” effects of lead include damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems.

Samples taken by the town’s consultant didn’t yield any lead in soil concentrations in the thousands. The two highest test results were 674 mg/kg and 699 mg/kg. The report indicated soils with concentrations at 600 mg/kg are “typical” for historic fill, in the eyes of MassDEP. The report noted more testing could be done in the vicinity of the higher test results, but advised against it: “It is Sovereign’s opinion that no further actions are required at this time.”

Select board chair Brian Packish reserved comment on the recent report, as he said he’s yet to thoroughly read it. 

The report recommends adopting MassDEP guidance for managing lead-contaminated soil at residential properties:

  • Minimize children’s play on bare soil in the area;
  • Minimize the presence of unpaved parking and walkways (i.e., as sources of the creation of dust);
  • Do not grow vegetables in the soil; 
  • Maintain a healthy lawn.


The report states the measures the guidance recommends “already exist at East Chop Lighthouse.”

Contrary to that assertion, the lighthouse and park are devoid of paved areas. The path to the lighthouse from East Chop Drive is bare dirt. The park has grass, which is in many places patchy. There is no irrigation at the park, according to Richard Combra Jr., a parks commissioner and superintendent of the town’s highway department.

The testing of the park came at the request of the board of health. Prior to the discovery of the 16,600 ppm concentration just inside the park, the town’s health agent was disinclined to recommend posting warning signs around Telegraph Hill Park, even though the soil around the lighthouse was known to harbor elevated levels of lead. The board initially joked about the problem, but by the next meeting, it addressed the matter seriously

There are three intersecting interests at the lighthouse and its vicinity. The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. The lighthouse is licensed to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, which maintains it save for its active beacon. The museum is presently wrapping up a restoration project at the lighthouse, unrelated to lead contamination. Oak Bluffs owns the park that surrounds the lighthouse. The town is the heir apparent for the structure when, as anticipated, the Coast Guard deaccessions it. The Coast Guard has accepted responsibility for the cleanup of contaminated soil from the 60-foot by 60-foot parcel of land it owns, as well as cleaning up small areas bordering sections of that property. The job will entail removing 230 tons of soil. It was slated to happen this autumn, but has been postponed until spring.

“I don’t think anything works quickly with a government agency,” Oak Bluffs select board member Ryan Ruley told The Times. Ruley said he would like to see the lighthouse and Telegraph Hill Park on an upcoming select board agenda for further discussion.

Health board member Tom Zinno told The Times he wants to confer more with the Coast Guard to make sure what they say they’ll do turns out to be what they’ll do. He said he believes the Coast Guard, instead of the town, should have paid for the testing of Telegraph Hill Park. Zinno said the takeaway for him in the report from the town’s consultant is overall lead levels are in a range where no further action is recommended.