Monday, May 23, 2016

Fire Hydrants - Oldest in Maynard

New Mueller hydrant, all red, dated 2015.
There are two Muellers dated 1959 on Nason Street.
After penning last week's fire hydrant article I got a few tips. A Mueller hydrant dated 1958 was sighted at Driscoll Avenue. This is now the oldest Mueller found. Pre-1975 Muellers are identified as being made in CHATTA TENN, not CHATT TENN (still meaning Chattanooga). Other brands of hydrants found in Maynard include American Darling, in the Presidents' street district, one hydrant at Main and River Streets branded the Eddy Valve Div of James B Clow Valve, and a couple of Traverse City Iron Works hydrants on mill&main property. A second  Rensselaer hydrant labeled THE COREY, stands on O'Moore Avenue. According to firehydrant.org, this model dates to 1900-1930. The street itself dates to 1921, so this may be an original hydrant, new in 1921.

Being in a neighborhood where the nearest hydrants are red-topped, meaning low water flow, is not as scary as it sounds. First responder trucks carry 500-1000 gallons of water, which is often all it takes to knock down a house fire. Even if not extinguished, time is gained for other water-carrying trucks and hydrant pumper trucks to arrive.

Chapman Valve fire hydrant.
Click on photos to enlarge.

The apparent winner for oldest hydrant is on an unpaved portion of White Avenue. Buried under uncounted layers of white paint, the hydrant has an emblem of a "C" entwined with a "V" which stands for Chapman Valve, A raised circle surrounds the emblem with the faintly legible words CHAPMAN VALVE on the top and BOSTON on the bottom. Outside this ring is a stylized snowflake design. All this detail dates the hydrant's manufacture to 1890-1900. However, Winter Avenue itself and neighboring streets were created in 1921. The possibility remains that this is one of Maynard's first hydrants, installed at the same time as the beginnings of the town's water system, in 1890, later relocated to Winter Avenue.  [Here's hoping that when the hydrant is retired it will turned over to the Maynard Historical Society.]

Chapman Valve Manufacturing Co. was located in the town of Indian Orchard, near Springfield, MA. Chapman had its own complex history. During World War II it supplied valves to the Manhattan Project and the Atomic Energy Commission. After the war, Chapman machined enriched uranium rods into reactor fuel slugs for the Brookhaven National Laboratory. The company may also have conducted rolling operations on uranium metal as late as 1949. The hydrant and valve factory was still active under various company names until 1971.

Twenty-five years later a radioactivity examination found evidence of enriched uranium contamination throughout the buildings and grounds. Remediation actions were taken, the buildings razed, the site capped with concrete and declared safe. A fund was set up to make payments to workers who had developed cancer in the interim. Or to their families if they had died of cancer.

Chapman Valve fire hydrant close-up. Center is letters "C" and "V" with
"MFG" in center. Top of ring reads "CHAPMAN VALVE" and bottom of
ring reads "BOSTON." Outer ring is eight-point snowflake design. 
Much closer to home, Nuclear Metals Incorporated, later named Starmet Corporation, processed depleted uranium (DU) to create armor-penetrating shells for military use. The NMI/Starmet site is in Concord, on the south side of Route 62, about half a mile east of Wendy's. The company operated from 1958 to 2002. Clean-up and remediation efforts, which began in 1997, continue.     

Depleted uranium is 67% denser than lead and only slightly less dense than gold. DU's military use advantage over lead (and gold) is that after penetrating tank or other vehicle armor the pulverized uranium is pyrophoric, meaning that the sparks of impact will set it afire. "Depleted" in this context means that most of the highly radioactive uranium isotope 235 was removed to make power plant or weapons-grade uranium. The problem is that depleted or not, uranium is chemically toxic if inhaled as dust or ingested from a contaminated water supply. Decades of processing DU and other exotic metals at the NMI/Starmet set left buildings and grounds and an on-site retention pond heavily contaminated with metals and chemicals such as PCBs.

Only now - 2016 - are the buildings being torn down and removed from the site, as part of a $100+ million dollar process of final remediation. The previous year saw removal of 4,000 tons of contaminated material, shipped off to Utah and Idaho. In addition to all the above ground and near-surface contamination in a holding pond and on-site dump pit, there is concern that contaminating materials have seeped deep into the earth, and are spreading beyond the boundaries of the property. In time, contaminated subsurface water could reach the Assabet River, some 300 feet to the north.

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