PORTSMOUTH NAVAL SHIPYARD
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The 278-acre Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNS) is a restricted access military facility located on Seavey Island in the Piscataqua River at the mouth of Portsmouth Harbor between Kittery, Maine and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Shipbuilding in Portsmouth Harbor dates back to 1690, and PNS was established as a government facility in 1800. The first government-built submarine was designed and constructed at PNS during World War I, and a large number of submarines have been designed, constructed, and repaired at this facility since 1917. Today, the shipyard employs approximately 5,000 civilian and approximately 200 active-duty military personnel with the primary mission being the conversion, overhaul, and repair of submarines for the US Navy.
Contamination at PNS is the result of shipbuilding and submarine repair work, landfill operations, spills and leaks from industrial operations and piping, storage of batteries and other materials, filling of land, and outfalls to the river. Seven areas on and around the Shipyard have been identified for investigation. Contamination detected in groundwater, soils, and sediments include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAHs), metals, and benzene.
What Has Been Done to Clean Up the Site?
The following seven areas have been identified and investigated at PNS. All areas have completed their remedial action and are protective of human health and the environment. Specifically:
Site 10, located within the Controlled Industrial Area of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, consists of area beneath and surrounding Building 238 adjacent to the Piscataqua River. Building 238 was historically utilized as a lead-battery recharging facility. Prior to 1974, lead-acid recovered from battery recharging operations was drained directly offshore through an industrial outfall. Beginning in 1974, however, acidic discharge was redirected into a lead-acid pipeline and associated underground storage tank. Use of this line and tank was discontinued in 1984 after leaks were discovered. Formal closure of the leaky tank occurred in 1986. Through various site investigations, it was determined that lead was the primary contaminant of concern in the soils.
The crawl space beneath Building 238 is a confined space, ranging in height from 8 feet to as low as 3 feet, containing numerous utility lines and building supports. Access to the crawl space is via a 3 foot by 3 foot drop hatch within the vestibule of the southwest entrance of Building 238. Additional access is provided through openings provided for ventilation along the concrete foundation, spaced approximately 100 feet apart. The ventilation openings are approximately 2 feet by 2 feet in size and are fitted with hatches. Due to the close proximity of the Piscataqua River soils within the crawl space is subject to diurnal flooding
A Record of Decision (ROD) selecting the cleanup remedy was finalized in September 2010. The remedy specified:
• Excavation of contaminated soils,
• Transportation and disposal of excavated soils,
• Confirmatory sampling,
• Back filling and site restoration, and,
• Land use Controls (LUCs) prohibiting residential reuse of the site, requiring the maintenance of current site features, including Building 238 and asphalt pavement, and requiring proper management of excavated soil as part of any future construction and maintenance activities at this area.
Remedial activities were completed in 2012.
Sites 6 & 29 and DRMO, is located in the south-central portion of PNS along the Piscataqua River and consists of Site 6, Site 29, and the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office (DRMO) Impact Area. The majority of Sites 6 and 29 have been used for industrial activities since the 1920s, and the portion of the DRMO Impact Area where Quarters S, N, and 68 are located has been used as residences since the 1800s. The remainder of the DRMO Impact Area includes roads and parking area.
The primary contaminant sources at this area are associated with the storage of materials and equipment at the DRMO Storage Yard and disposal of waste materials in the waste disposal area. Secondary contamination in the DRMO has resulted from snow plowing and loading and offloading of materials for storage at the DRMO Storage Yard. Soil contaminants identified at Sites 6 and 29 are antimony, copper, lead, nickel, dioxins/furans, PCBs, and PAHs. Lead was detected at concentrations greater than residential risk screening levels and background concentrations across the largest area, and therefore lead contamination defines the maximum extent of soil contamination at Sites 6 and 29.
Types and concentrations of contaminants at Site 6 and in the western portion of Site 29 are similar; therefore, the areas were combined and referred to as the DRMO area for development of cleanup alternatives. The remainder of Site 29 was evaluated as the waste disposal area. A ROD was signed in September 2011. The major components of the remedy for the waste disposal area include the following:
• Excavation of soil and waste material from 0 to 2 feet below ground surface (bgs) within the waste disposal area and disposal of excavated soil in an off-yard landfill.
• Excavation and off-yard disposal of soil and waste material in debris areas adjacent to the waste disposal area.
• Construction of a 2-foot-thick soil cover over the area where waste material remains below 2 feet bgs. The cover will consist of a geotextile, common fill, topsoil, and in some locations pavement. Excavation of soil from 0 to 2 feet bgs within the waste disposal area before placement of the cover will reduce the impact to final site elevations; thereby reducing the impact to site operations.
The major components of the remedy as set forth in the 2011 ROD for the DRMO area included the following:
• Excavation and off-yard disposal of soil associated with potentially unacceptable risks to construction workers. Excavation based on construction worker exposure also addresses potential unacceptable risks for occupational and hypothetical recreational exposure. Excavation of contaminated soil to a depth of little soil and mostly rock (i.e., the rock fragment fill layer) and/or where contaminant concentrations were at acceptable levels for industrial land use.
• Restoring excavated areas to establish pre-construction grades, elevations, and surface types using clean soil and pavement.
The entire site is also required to:
• Implement LUCs via a LUC Remedial Design (RD). The LUC RD requires maintenance of site features to prevent erosion, maintenance of the soil cover, restriction of unauthorized digging within the proposed soil cover limits, scheduled inspections, signage, and restriction of residential land use.
• Groundwater monitoring to provide confidence that copper, lead, and nickel in waste material does not migrate to groundwater at unacceptable levels.
• Sediment accumulation monitoring to provide confidence that contaminated material does not erode and migrate to the offshore area and accumulate in the intertidal area immediately east of Site 29.
• Five-year site reviews to ensure that the remedy remains protective of human health and the environment.
Remedial activities were completed in 2015.
Jamaica Island Landfill (JILF) is approximately 22 acres and is used for parking, occupational uses, and recreational uses. Wetlands are located adjacent to the northern end of the area, by Jamaica Cove. The hazardous waste storage facility (Building 357) is located to the northeast; although, the boundary of this area extends into a portion of the paved area west of the building. Clark Cove is east of the landfill, and the solid waste storage facility (Building 337) is located to the south. The Automotive Hobby Shop (Building 320) and hospital (H1) are located to the west. Site 8 is the JILFand Sites 9 and 11 were located within the JILF boundary. JILF, which previously consisted of tidal mudflats, was used as a disposal area from 1945 to 1978 for general refuse, trash, construction rubble, dredged sediment, and various industrial wastes.
A ROD for the JILF was signed in 2001 and amended through an Explanation of Significant Differences (ESD) in 2003 and again in 2005. The ROD required the construction of a hazardous waste cap over the landfill; construction of a restored salt water wetland, erosion control measures along the shore of the JILF; implementation of institutional controls; long-term monitoring; and operation and maintenance. Construction at this area was completed in 2006.
Off-Shore consists of the offshore area of the Piscataqua River and Back Channel around PNS, and is a compilation of Site 5 (former industrial waste outfalls) and six Areas of Concern (AOCs), nearshore habitats adjacent to PNS potentially impacted by onshore Installation Restoration Program (IRP) sites. The six AOCs are: Clark Cove, Sullivan Point, Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office (DRMO) Storage Yard, Dry Docks, Back Channel, and Jamaica Cove.
The 2013 Selected Remedy eliminates unacceptable risk to ecological benthic receptors exposed to site-related COCs in sediment habitats. There are no unacceptable risks to human health within this area. The Selected Remedy is expected to achieve Unlimited Use/Unrestricted Exposure for the site. The major component of the remedy is:
• Hydraulic dredging and off site disposal of contaminated sediments from MS-01, MS-03, MS-04, & MS-12 offshore areas.
Remedial activities were completed in 2016.
Site 32 Topeka Pier encompasses approximately 17 acres of filled land on the northern shore of PNS, along the Back Channel of the Piscataqua River, from just west of Building 162 to east of Building H29 and from the Back Channel south to Building 129. Filling in this area began in 1900 when excavated material from the construction of Dry Dock No. 2 was used to connect Dennett's and Seavey Islands. A new pier, Topeka Pier, was constructed in the Back Channel of the Piscataqua River to dock the prison ship USS Topeka. Storing and milling of lumber in the area began by 1910, and a timber basin was established at the southeastern corner of the site. The area west of the timber basin was used to store coal, wood, and scrap iron. Building 98 was constructed to store combustibles including paints and oils. By the early 1920s, a sawmill (Building 129), a lumber storehouse with timber racks (Building 132), and an additional lumber storehouse (Building 149) were built west of the timber basin to accommodate the increased demand for lumber during WWI. Filling continued until 1945.
In 1994 and 1995, excavation work performed by the Shipyard along Goodrich Avenue and near Building H23 uncovered debris including large dry-cell batteries, graphite electrodes, brick, wood, metal pipe and wire, glass, asbestos cloth, and crucibles used in foundry operations.
Current land use includes office parking, equipment storage, vehicle and rail car maintenance, transducer repair, boat launch, and a hotel (H23). The pier and offshore areas are used for docking of boats.
The cleanup remedy for this area addresses past releases of contamination from filling and past industrial uses of the site to soil and groundwater and the future potential for contaminated soil to migrate and adversely impact the offshore environment. Site 32 is not a current source of on-going release that may pose unacceptable risk to the offshore area.
The 2013 Selected Remedy for this area includes four major components:
• Excavation and offsite disposal of soil associated with potentially unacceptable risks to industrial workers.
• Restoring excavated areas to establish pre-construction grades, elevations, and surface types.
• Implementing LUCs to prohibit future residential use, provide requirements for management of excavated soil, and provide requirements for long-term management of existing shoreline erosion controls.
• Scheduled inspection of LUCs.
Remedial activities were completed in 2016.
Site 31 Former West Timber Basin is located in the western portion of PNS, in the Controlled Industrial Area (CIA). Site 31 is located within an industrial area surrounded by buildings and dry docks. The site is bounded by the historical quay walls of the former timber basin on the east, west, and south. The northern boundary is based on the approximate extent of operations in this area. Two buildings are partially located within this area, Building 92 on the east and Building 174 on the west. The remainder of the site is covered with asphalt.
The former timber basin that was filled from approximately 1917 to 1940 to allow use for various industrial activities in support of Shipyard operations. Past industrial activities included a metal washing Splant (1917 to 1920), cleaning of steel plates (1920 to 1940), and a metal plate yard (1940s to late 1990s). Subsequently the site was used for equipment storage and temporary facilities. The operations that resulted in releases of contamination at Site 31 were related to the filling of the former timber basin and past industrial uses of the site, including the metal washing plant and plate yard. The majority of filling of the former timber basin was completed by 1925, when only a small area in the southwestern corner had not been filled. By 1940, filling of the former timber basin was completed. Fill material included rocks, soil, bricks, metal debris, cinders, wood, gravel, and other waste materials. Some of the by-products of operations in the metal washing plant may have been discarded into the former timber basin, including metals, ash, and skimmings. This area is now used for office trailers, temporary buildings, and equipment storage.
The ROD was finalized in September 2017. The cleanup remedy specified:
• Implementation of LUCs via a LUC Remedial Design in order to restrict residential and recreational land uses, prevent unrestricted access to subsurface soil, and require management of excavated soil.
• Five-year site reviews to ensure that the remedy remains protective of human health and the environment.
Implementation of LUCs are expected to be complete in 2018.
Site 34 - Oil Gasification Plant is located in the central portion of PNS. The buildings at and in the vicinity of Site 34 are used for industrial and commercial uses, and the paved areas surrounding the buildings are used for parking: Building 62 and its annex currently are used by the Shipyard Public Works Department as a shop and storage facility. A parking garage is located east of the former locations of Buildings 63 and 188. This area is in a historic district at PNS, and buildings at and near the site (Buildings 40, 43, 60, and 62) are considered contributing elements to the National Historic Registry District. There is a relatively flat grassy area with a picnic table north of former Building 63. In general, the land on the northern side of Building 62 Annex and northeast of Building 62 slopes gently north towards the roadway and then slopes steeply to the water's edge at the shoreline of the site adjoining the Back Channel of the Piscataqua River. Access to the shoreline from the site is difficult because of the rapid changes in terrain at the ledges.
The Former Oil Gasification Plant, Building 62 (built in the late 1800s) and the more recent annex (built in the 1940s) are the most prominent features related to use of the site. Ash was generated from the combustion of coal as part of oil gasification (kerosene was converted to illuminating gas) from 1870s to early 1900 and as part of the blacksmith shop from 1915 to 1930. Ash, assumed to be from the combustion of coal (and potentially including ash from a building fire), was deposited primarily north of Building 62, resulting in an ash pile. Ash was covered by vegetation including grass and small bushes as well as found under asphalt around Buildings 62, 62 Annex, and 63. After 1930, Building 62 and Annex were used by the Public Works Department. Pesticide storage activities were conducted in Building 62 in the 1960s until 1985 when a new pesticide control shop was built on the southern side of the Shipyard.
A Removal Action was performed in 2007. The Removal Action consisted of extensive excavation and off-site disposal of contaminated soils and ash.
The 2013 Selected Remedy for this area includes Land Use Controls for contaminated soil north of Building 62 and for Building 62 Annex to prevent unrestricted exposure to potential contamination beneath the floor of Building 62 Annex for current industrial site users and to restrict residential use to prevent residential exposure to subsurface soil in the area north of Building 62. A 2017 Explanation of Significant Differences modified the boundary of the land use controls and added shoreline erosion controls.
What Is the Current Site Status?
Currently all remedial actions have been completed and are protective of Human Health and the Environment. In September 2019, EPA issued a Preliminary Closeout Report which documents construction completion at PNS as all construction activities have been completed.
The Navy completed an investigation to evaluate the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at the Shipyard in March 2019. PFAS was detected in groundwater above EPA's Lifetime Health Advisories for PFOA/PFOS in four out of five locations. Under current use as an active shipyard, industrial workers are not at risk from exposure to PFAS in groundwater or soil if they come into contact with contamination. EPA, Navy, and Maine Department of Environmental Protection are evaluating steps to protect potential, future residential receptors.