A mounting pile of lead-contaminated ash at an island transfer station has presented officials with a mountain-sized headache over how to get rid of it.

Deer Isle Town Manager James Fisher is looking for ways to dispose of an estimated 1,000 cubic yard pile of ash that has a high concentration of lead and is larger than the state allows. The town will likely need to haul the pile out of state at the cost of possibly seven figures.

Earlier this year, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection ordered Deer Isle to close its burn pile where the town incinerated construction debris, because of the growing ash pile that had been there for years.

The pile is roughly 40 times larger than the state standard, Fisher estimated, and the town is now required to haul it away. But to do that, the municipality had to get it tested for toxins. Tests from earlier this year found that the pile is about 7 parts per million lead — higher than the state’s 5 parts per million standard.

“The ash from a significant burn pile located at the transfer station was tested and falls under the definitions for hazardous waste,” Deputy Commissioner David Madore said. “DEP staff are working with the town to identify solutions, but there are no answers yet.”

The presence of lead will likely hike the price of getting rid of the ash. One estimate was as much as $1 million, though Fisher said he wasn’t sure how much confidence he had in that figure.

The state has strict rules around disposing of lead. Lead poisoning is the number one environmental health threat to children in the U.S.

“Lead is toxic, so the goal is to move these ashes to a properly lined landfill built for such material that will not leach,” Fisher said.  

It’s possible, according to Fisher, that there could be ways to treat the ash, making it easier to dispose of. But if it can’t, the town might need to take it to a hazardous materials landfill in Massachusetts.

Deer Isle may be able to split the pile up into smaller sections in the hopes that some portions may have low enough levels of lead to dispose of in the state.

The cause of the lead contamination is likely the burning of materials that weren’t supposed to be put in the incinerator. The island is also dealing with lead in its school water, though that is believed to be due to fixtures in the plumbing and not connected to the transfer station.

Fisher thought that, no matter what happens to the ash pile, the town should probably stop incinerating construction debris, a practice the town has been involved in for decades.