Paintshop Pond:
We Want You to Know

(Click to view the June 1999 Information Sheet)

(Click to view the April 1999 Information Sheet)

May 1998

You may be surprised to know that Wellesley College has been conducting a number of studies and clean-up activities at the former Henry Wood's Sons Paint Factory property since the 1970s. The former paint factory property borders the western portion of the college's campus on the eastern shore of Paintshop Pond and south of Route 135. Although we've been doing a lot of work at the property and in the surrounding wetlands and water bodies, we may not have done as much communication with people who may be interested. We think you should know what has been going on, the results of these studies, and what work is planned.


The former Henry Wood's Sons Paint Factory was the producer of fine colored pigments and operated between 1848 and the early 1920s. This paint factory was reportedly the largest such facility in New England at the time. The company's production of various colors of pigments involved the use of substances including arsenates, lead chromates, barium sulfates, calcium chromates and iron ferrocyanide. The company's production process discharged pigment waste onto ground surface, into unlined on-site lagoons, and into adjoining water bodies known as Waban Brook and Lake Waban.

In 1932, Wellesley College purchased the 11 acre property and paint factory buildings known as the Henry Wood's Sons Paint Factory. At the time of purchase, the College's intent was to maintain this property as open space and not allow industrial development to encroach near the campus.

DEP oversightIn the mid-1970's, with the advent of regulatory policies and greater environmental awareness, contaminated soils and paint pigment were identified by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on the property. The College initiated numerous environmental testing programs including test pits, surface and deep soil borings and sediment and surface water sampling. The testing revealed residual paint waste pigment containing high levels of lead, chromium, arsenic, and cyanide in the surface and subsurface soils of the uplands, wetlands, sediments of Paintshop Pond, and some parts of Waban Brook and Lake Waban.

Although the College did not cause the problem, as the current owner of the property we have taken responsibility for addressing it. The College is fully committed to ensuring the protection of the health and welfare of our students, employees, visitors and area residents from exposure to areas that might have contamination.

Our most recent activities include further sampling in Lake Waban to determine the extent of contamination from historical wastewater discharges, runoff, and contaminated groundwater from the former paint factory site. Sampling was performed in October, 1997, with additional sampling planned for the Summer and Fall of 1998. Results of these studies will be used to do a complete evaluation of whether metal contamination poses any long-term risk to public health or the environment.

The recent sampling in the lake showed the presence of high levels of metals in certain portions of the lake, specifically, the northern shoreline and western cove area. As a result, we performed an evaluation referred to as an Imminent Hazard Evaluation. The purpose of this evaluation is to identify if conditions exist in these portions of the lake that on a short-term basis, might pose a significant risk to health, safety or the environment. Doing this evaluation helps us and the DEP decide if efforts need to be taken to prevent exposure from contamination that currently exists in the lake.

There are distinct areas of Lake Waban that are currently used for different purposes. Wellesley College has two designated swimming areas. Previously, the public beach area adjacent to the boathouse had been extensively sanded. Sampling of this area, as well as the Green Beach swimming area, confirms there is no risk from using these beaches. Because both these areas are safe, this evaluation focused on the two areas of Lake Waban with high concentrations of metals in sediments (the northern shoreline and the western cove). While neither of these areas are designated swimming areas, there is a possibility that people could be exposed to contamination if they frequently used these areas for boating.


When the DEP informed us of the high levels of metals in the pigment found in the uncovered waste piles and lagoons on the property in 1975, we began working with DEP officials, environmental and health experts, groundwater specialists, chemists and biologists to study and to clean up the sources of contamination. Our initial actions included fencing off and covering the waste piles and lagoons to minimize contact with the material, followed by the excavation and off-site removal of these materials.

Over the years, the College has extensively studied the property (including uplands, wetlands, Paintshop Pond, Waban Brook and Lake Waban) to determine how the operations from the paint factory contaminated the soil, groundwater, surface water and sediments. To date, we have had laboratory tests done on well over 6,000 samples taken from:

We found that the highest levels of arsenic, barium, lead and chromium were found in the actual pigment materials found on the site, and in the wetlands, and Lake and Pond sediments. Further, as a result of rainwater and groundwater coming in contact with these materials, the groundwater has become contaminated. The major groundwater contaminant is hexavalent chromium found primarily east of the Paint Factory and south of the Sports Center. Fortunately, this groundwater is not used as a drinking water source.


To have a risk, there has to be exposure to something that has potential adverse effects. Based on the results of actual sampling data, we determined the concentration of the three metals we are concerned about: lead, chromium and arsenic. Using DEP-approved exposure scenarios, we made a number of assumptions about how often someone might use these specific areas of the lake we are concerned about, and we also made assumptions about how they might get exposed.

We looked at young children (from ages less than 6 months to 6 years old) and adults who might swim and wade in these areas during the warmer months of the year. (We know that during the winter months these areas would not be used due to cold weather and ice conditions.)

How often someone might actually go swimming is related to things like accessibility and attractiveness of the area, availability of other swimming areas, and other factors that might encourage someone to wade into the water, like the presence of moored boats. We assumed that someone would be exposed 3 days per week during the summer (36 times over the course of the summer) to metals in lake sediments from direct contact with their skin and that in addition, small children would accidentally eat a small amount of sediment each time they went into the water.


NO RISKBoth the public beach area and Green Beach are safe for swimming.

The results of this Imminent Hazard are used to help decide if some action needs to be taken to prevent exposure. The results are based on a series of assumptions, which may or may not occur or apply to any individual. This evaluation only focused on the three metals found in high concentrations. A more complete assessment looking at all metals will be performed once all the site sampling activities are completed later this year.


Eliminating the largest sources of contamination, namely the waste piles and lagoon, was our top priority. We hired environmental clean-up contractors in 1991 and removed 3,600 tons of pigment to an approved hazardous material facility in Canada. Some of our additional activities include:

Applying 600 tons of sand within the Public Beach designated swim area to minimize contact with and migration of contaminated sediments.

Removing 250 tons of pigment from the Mary Hemenway Gymnasium to an approved hazardous material facility in Canada.

Reducing contact with the Paint Factory property by installing a fence around the perimeter of the property and wetlands to minimize contact with the contaminated soils.

Posting signs outside the fenced-in area informing people of the presence of lead chromate materials.

Capping and paving portions of the jogging path to minimize contact with contaminated soils.

Removing pigment from the waste piles and lagoon to an approved hazardous material facility; these areas were then capped with two-foot cap consisting of a clay layer and loamed and seeded.

Establishing a groundwater monitoring program at the Paint Factory site and on-campus to monitor groundwater quality.

Determining the extent of contamination in the soil, wetland sediments, and Pond and Lake sediments.

Monitoring of the College's water supply; data shows that the water quality meets the drinking water standards.

Monthly monitoring of the surface water during the swim season at the Public Beach and Green Beach.


The work which we have completed to date has substantially reduced the chance of exposure to metals present in the pigment. Our efforts have also helped to minimize further releases of metals to the environment through surface water runoff and seepage to the groundwater. By fencing the former Paint Factory, we have restricted access to areas where contamination remains and have reduced the risk of exposure.

As part of our "Phase II Comprehensive Site Investigation", the College is continuing to investigate the cause of the high levels of chromium in the groundwater east of of the Paint Factory. We are working with DEP and collectively evaluating all sources of contamination in the area both on and off-campus. Additional monitoring wells will be installed along the northern portion of the campus between Paintshop Pond and the Sports Center to determine groundwater flow and quality.

All of our work is performed under the oversight of the DEP under a very detailed set of regulations referred to as the Massachusetts Contingency Plan (MCP). The MCP outlines the requirements for notification, assessment and cleanup of contaminated sites.

Over the next several months, you will be seeing a great deal of activity at the Paint Factory Site and Lake Waban. We will continue collecting sediment and surface water samples from Paintshop Pond and Lake Waban. We will also conduct a wildlife and a fish habitat survey. The next steps in DEP's site investigation and cleanup process involve performing detailed Human Health and Environmental Risk Assessments. These assessments will determine whether remaining contamination at the site poses the potential for risk to human health, welfare or the environment under both existing site conditions and into the future. This information will be used to determine what cleanup or other appropriate steps are needed.


Lead is a metal that can have adverse health effects depending on the amount that gets into your body. Lead is particulary harmful to the developing brain and nervous system of young children and fetuses (Center for Disease Control, 1991). Children and adults are exposed to lead from many sources including air, food, and drinking water. Exposure to lead, regardless of the source, can be detected in the blood. Research has shown that adverse effects of lead on the developing nervous system occur at blood lead levels as low as 10 ug/dL. Blood lead levels as low as the target level and slightly above do not cause distinctive symptoms, but are associated with a decrease in intelligence, decreased stature or growth, and decreased hearing ability.

target blood levelChildren with a consistent blood lead of 15-19 ug/dL can suffer adverse effects such as mild to moderate decrease in IQ, shortened attention span, and learning and behavioral difficulties. Children with blood lead levels between 20-69 ug/dL are considered Lead Poisoned. These children, depending on their age, lead level, and duration of exposure may exhibit some visible effects of lead poisoning such as speech delays, hyperactivity, regression of recently acquired skills, irritability and change in appetite (Massachusetts Department of Public Health). Depending on the blood lead levels, various medical treatments are available. Most childhood lead exposures result from inhaling lead paint dust, eating lead paint chips, and drinking water containing lead. In Massachusetts, the Department of Public Health requires that all children, regardless of whether they are known to be exposed to any particular source of lead, be tested for lead exposure at least once between the ages of nine and twelve months and annually thereafter until they are five years old.

Regardless of the results of this Imminent Hazard Assessment, if you are concerned about your child's exposure to lead, their blood lead level should be measured. You may already have this information from the yearly screening. While the blood lead test does not give information on the source of lead exposure, it will tell you whether or not any medical attention is needed. We recommend that if you have any concern about lead exposures to your children that you contact your pediatrician and request a blood lead evaluation.


Because the potential from exposure to lead in sediments is dependent upon the frequency of swimming and wading activities of children along the northern shoreline, Wellesley College will immediately implement several measures to insure that the potential for exposure is limited. Once these actions are taken, the conditions along the northern shoreline would not pose an imminent hazard. The proposed actions will be implemented prior to the warmer weather when the potential to wade or swim in this area is more likely.

The College's actions include:

In addition to these specific actions, our site sampling activities (including monthly sampling of public beach areas in the summer) will continue. Comprehensive human health and ecological risk assessments will be performed as part of the Phase II Comprehensive Site Assessment we are completing. This comprehensive evaluation will consider current and future uses of the former paint factory site and Lake Waban.


(Click to view the June 1999 Information Sheet)

(Click to view the April 1999 Information Sheet)

Mary Ann Hill
Director of Public Information and Government Relations
Wellesley College
(781) 283-2788

Steven Johnson
Project Manager
Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection
205A Lowell Street
Wilmington, MA 01887
(978) 661-7710

Office for Public Information
Last Modified: January 10, 2001