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Study: Glynn Dolphins show high concentration of PCB contamination
Pollution from LCP Superfund site blamed for PCBs in Turtle River and tributaries
By Mike Morrison Sat, Jan 11, 2014 @ 8:59 pm | updated Sat, Jan 11, 2014 @ 9:04 pm
BRUNSWICK | Glynn County holds the dubious distinction of having some of the world’s most toxic bottlenose dolphins and a local environmental advocacy group wants everyone to know it.
Dolphins in the Turtle River have been poisoned for decades by chemicals used at the former LCP Chemicals-Georgia plant, a federal Superfund cleanup site for more than 20 years, and a study has revealed off-the-charts levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in their bloodstreams.
PCBs were used as coolants in the plant’s manufacturing process.
Officials in an EPA Emergency Response and Recovery team said they learned that diodes in the production cells where LCP converted brine to chlorine were impregnated with PCBs. Once the diodes were no longer usable, they were used as riprap to stabilize the banks of the canal and tidal creek where LCP discharged supposedly treated wastewater. The PCBs then traveled with the outgoing tides into Purvis Creek and the Turtle River where the dolphins live and feed on fish.
Banned since 1979, PCBs potentially cause lowered immune response, poor cognitive development, liver damage and impaired reproduction.
“These dolphins live year-round in our local estuaries,” Daniel Parshley, executive director of the Glynn Environmental Coalition, said. “These are our dolphins and it’s a shame how badly we’ve cared for their well-being.”
Parshley cited a study involving the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that documented contaminants in the state’s bottlenose dolphins. Twenty-nine dolphins were caught, tested and released in the 2009 study.
“Findings indicated that concentrations of PCBs in Brunswick dolphins were 10 times higher than any location previously documented,” said the study, which is posted on the DNR’s website.
Dolphins captured for the study exhibited health problems potentially linked to PCBs. Some had low thyroid hormone levels, several were smaller than expected for their age and 26 percent were anemic, the study states.
Parshley said the coalition is drawing attention to the plight of the dolphins now because the federal Environmental Protection Agency is slated to make a final decision on how to clean up the marsh sometime this year.
He wants the public to be involved.
“We want to raise community awareness because communities that are involved in the debate get better cleanup than those that are not,” he said. “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”
LCP’s parent company, AlliedSignal, merged with Honeywell Corp. in 1999 and the new company kept the Honeywell name.
John Morris, Honeywell’s manager for environmental remediation projects, said the company welcomes public participation in the process.
“Honeywell has been working with EPA, the state and others to conduct an extensive investigation of environmental conditions at the LCP property,” he said. “We fully support the important public participation component of the Superfund process and look forward to visiting with the community during a public meeting that will be set by EPA.”
Parshley warned, however, that citizens shouldn’t wait until the public meeting to have their voices heard.
“It’s important for the public to have their wishes and desires known before then,” he said. “Essentially, when you get to the public meeting and comment period, the decision has already been made.”
The EPA’s draft feasibility study for the cleanup lists several options involving removal of all or portions of the 48 acres of the 500-acre marsh that are deemed polluted, and capping the rest.
The coalition is awaiting more data from tests of the contaminants in the marsh before weighing in on what it considers the best option, Parshley said.
LCP is one of four Superfund cleanup sites in the county.
“Everyone agrees that it is the most challenging site,” Parshley said.
Cleanup efforts have been underway for a couple of decades but the level of toxins in dolphins indicates that they’re a long way from over, Parshley said.
“Dolphins are a good indicator of the impact on our estuaries,” he said. “If we have a cleanup that’s protective of the dolphins, it’s very likely also protective of all the critters in the marsh.”