The above is neither a fragment from some kid’s Gamma World campaign nor an excerpt from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World production notes. It is, generic in fact, pharm a map of the North Woburn neighborhood where I grew up. (My family lived on Merrimac Street, an inch or so off the bottom left-hand corner of the map.)
While a lot of the worst areas had been fenced off (sorta) by the time my childhood wanderings brought me to the areas in question, my friends and I used to shortcut across the frozen arsenic lagoon to get to the Woburn Mall during the winter months. It wasn’t particularly deep, so you could see all kinds of garishly colored plant formations beneath the ice. It wasn’t until I had a semester of high school chemistry under my belt that I realized that the “vegetation” consisted of toxic metal salts that had precipitated around bits of aquatic debris.
That may also explain why some Mad Jack (neighborhood slang for any angry grown-up dude with a beard) from the neighboring industrial park screamed at my friends when they tried to sail out on the lagoon on a jury-rigged raft.
The site was capped and covered up during the 1990s, with the more reclaimable parts used as the site of a commuter rail station (named after one of the kids who died of cancer caused by the toxic contamination) and a mixed-use retail/office park. Honestly, though? If given a choice between a Chipotle and a chromium pit, I’m going to pick the latter every time.
(As much as Woburn and the related regions of the Aberjona River watershed have tried to put the toxic waste rep behind them, there are still plenty of places that even the most rapacious real estate developers have steered clear of. Hell, there are two within walking distance of the House on the Hillside, which is on the opposite end of town from where the most infamous nastiness unfolded.)