Superfund Information Systems: Site Profile

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President James Madison established the Materials Technology Laboratory in Watertown, Massachusetts in 1816. The facility was used originally for the storage, cleaning, repair and issuance of small arms. During the mid-1800s, its mission expanded to include ammunition and pyrotechnics production, materials testing and experimentation with paints, lubricants and cartridges, and the manufacture of breech loading steel guns and cartridges for field and siege guns. The mission, staff and facilities continued to expand until after World War II, at which time the facility encompassed 131 acres. In 1968, the Town of Watertown acquired 55 acres of the site property. In 1960, the Army's first material research nuclear reactor was completed at this lab. The reactor was used in molecular and atomic structure research activities until 1970, when it was deactivated. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission decommissioned the research reactor in 1992; it was demolished in 1994.

The site closed under the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Act of 1988. Wastes generated by the facility while it was operating have contaminated soil and groundwater at several areas across the site. Most of the site property has been transferred to private ownership, with the Town of Watertown retaining a small parcel and the State of Massachusetts owning another parcel. After cleanup, EPA took the site off the Superfund program’s National Priorities List (NPL) in September 2006.

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What Has Been Done to Clean Up the Site?

Cleanup of a 36.5-acre parcel of the site finished in 1998. In November 1999, EPA deleted the area from EPA’s National Priorities List of sites needing cleanup. In September 2005, EPA determined no further cleanup was needed for the Charles River portion of the site. In November 2006, EPA took the site off the NPL.

EPA has conducted several five-year reviews of the site’s remedy. These reviews ensure that the remedies put in place continue to protect public health and the environment, and function as intended by site decision documents.

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What Is the Current Site Status?

All areas of contamination have been cleaned up. All imminent health risks have been identified and eliminated or controlled by covers maintained by the Army. In addition, while many of the contaminants detected across the site were within acceptable risk standards for industrial use, risks associated with future residential-use scenarios were identified and were the focus of EPA’s cleanup decisions.

EPA took the site off the Superfund program’s National Priorities List (NPL) in September 2006.

Groundwater is contaminated with volatile organic compounds, and the 2016 Five Year Review identified the need to conduct a vapor intrusion evaluation to determine if there is need for a remedy change to ensure protection of human health.  The Army is currently performing a Vapor Intrusion Study for potentially impacted areas; the site-wide study is expected to be complete in 2018.  A known source area is expected to be removed by the end of 2018.  The next five-year review is due in 2021.

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Activity and Use Limitations

At this site, activity and use limitations that EPA calls institutional controls are in place. Institutional controls play an important role in site remedies because they reduce exposure to contamination by limiting land or resource use. They also guide human behavior. For instance, zoning restrictions prevent land uses – such as residential uses – that are not consistent with the level of cleanup.

For more background, see Institutional Controls.

Institutional controls are required for this site.
This site requires ICs because a decision document, such as a Record of Decision, has documented some level of contamination and/or remedy component at the site that would restrict use of the site. These ICs are required to help ensure the site is used in an appropriate way and that activities at the site do not damage the cleanup components. These ICs will remain in place for as long as the contamination and/or cleanup components stay on site.  The site contacts should be consulted if there are questions on the ICs for this site.
The following IC Instruments provide media-specific use restrictions that have been implemented by EPA for protecting human health, the environment and remedial engineering on this site. Instruments are documents used by EPA or other organizations to implement the use restrictions at a site. To know about other media-specific use restrictions that are planned but not implemented at this site, please contact the Regional Office using the Site Contact listed above.
Click here for IC Instruments implemented for this site.

To contact EPA regarding Institutional Controls and/or activity and use limitations, please complete this form.

ICs are generally defined as administrative and legal tools that do not involve construction or physically changing the site. Common examples of ICs include site use and excavation restrictions put in place through State and local authorities like zoning, permits and easements. ICs are normally used when waste is left onsite and when there is a limit to the activities that can safely take place at the site (i.e., the site cannot support unlimited use and unrestricted exposure) and/or when cleanup components of the remedy remains onsite (e.g., landfill caps, pumping equipment or pipelines). Effective ICs help ensure that these sites can be returned to safe and beneficial use.
Disclaimer: This information is being provided by EPA as an informational tool to further assist the public in determining the types of restrictions that may be in place at National Priorities List sites being addressed by EPA under the Superfund program. In addition to the areas addressed by the institutional controls identified on this web site there may be other areas on the property that require restrictions on use of the property that are not captured in this EPA database. States and other entities may have implemented laws or restrictions applicable to this site. The information provided herein does not replace a title search or meet "All Appropriate Inquiry" requirements. U.S. EPA encourages users to review the Site files to obtain information regarding remedy components, containment systems and the land use for which cleanup standards were selected for these sites. More information and links can be found in the Institutional Control instrument collection of document, above, and the EPA regional offices may also be contacted.

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Sampling and Monitoring

Army monitors the institutional controls required by the remedy on an annual basis.

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