East Chop Lighthouse excavation begins

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Excavation work is underway at East Chop Lighthouse. -Rich Saltzberg

U.S. Coast Guard contractor Renova Environmental Co. has begun excavation of lead paint–tainted soil at East Chop Lighthouse in Oak Bluffs. The removal is expected to “yield approximately 250 tons of impacted soil,” according to a Revona work plan. 

The Coast Guard has known for years lead was present in the soil at the lighthouse, but appears to have taken action only after The Times published several articles on the subject, and after a restoration contractor working on behalf of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum did informal soil testing and found lead.

The Martha’s Vineyard Museum tends to the upkeep of the lighthouse, and gives tours under a license from the Coast Guard. However, tours haven’t happened for a while. The lighthouse closed for restoration work in 2019, and didn’t reopen after the lead issue arose. The lighthouse and the 60- by 60-foot federal parcel it sits on are surrounded by Telegraph Hill, an Oak Bluffs park. 

Tests have revealed the highest concentration of lead found in the soil was on the periphery of the federal parcel in the town park. That finding was 16,600 mg/kg, or 16,600 ppm. The EPA threshold for action is 400 mg/kg (ppm). 

Per its work plan, Renova aims to replace the site soil with soil that is below 400 mg/kg (ppm). Subsequent testing elsewhere in the park revealed lead levels that Revova found “pose no significant risk,” according to a report. The soil project is expected to finish by March 18, according to Petty Officer Amanda Wyrick, a spokesperson for the Coast Guard’s 1st District.