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  Brunswick News  October 12, 2005   Section(s)  Frontpage  

Tainted Site Riles Nearby Residents

Flood, drop in funds add to worries for toxic land


The Brunswick News

In a way, Frank Lea feels cheated.

When he bought a house on Perry Lane Road five years ago, he wasn't aware that he would be living near what is essentially a toxic dump - the Brunswick Wood Preserving site.

Escambia Treating Co. once operated the facility, decades ago, on 84 acres in the area. Operations at the facility contaminated the groundwater with creosote, pentacholorophenal (PCP) and copper chromium-arsenate (CCA), all of which were used in a wood-treating process. The Environmental Protection Agency began to remove contaminants in 1991, but contaminants remain.

"I knew the wood preserving site was there but wasn't aware of the extent of the contaminants it left behind," Lea said.

Now, the situation may be worse. Recent flooding may have washed contaminants from the area into the private wells of nearby residents.

In 1997, the site was deemed hazardous enough to earn a spot on the Environmental Protection Agency's National Priorities List of Superfund sites. But that designation has done little good, Glynn Environmental Coalition representatives contend, since funds to clean the site do not seem to be forthcoming.

According to a report recently released by the GEC and other environmental organizations across the country, the once-robust Superfund program, established in the 1980s to clean up toxic waste sites, is now underfunded, with program costs shifting from polluting industries to regular taxpayers.

Originally, the Superfund program collected taxes - called polluter pays fees - from oil and chemical companies that were then used to help pay for the cleanup of sites where the original polluting company was bankrupt.

The fees expired in 1995 and Congress refused to reinstate them, so the burden has shifted to taxpayers, the report says.

Accordingly, it notes that Superfund cleanups have slowed from 88 sites in 1997 to 16 sites cleaned in 2005. GEC president Bill Owens said sites like Brunswick Wood Preserving often get overlooked because the companies have gone bankrupt.

"Ownership has been abandoned, which means the EPA has it, which means we (as taxpayers) have it," he said. "It's in our back pocket. We're stuck with it."

In the early 1990s, the EPA began working on the site, removing the site structures and treating wastewater. But activity has been largely non-existent in recent years, even though the area still poses a significant health threat to nearby residents, the GEC says. Lea noted a pipe that he said still drains contaminants from the site into Burnett Creek.

In addition to private wells, Owens is concerned about municipal wells near the area. He also said the EPA has not been forthcoming about where the Brunswick Wood Preserving site is ranked to receive funding.

But EPA official Kerry Humphrey, based in Washington, D.C., said that though sites like Brunswick Wood Preserving are placed on a National Priority List, they are not necessarily given a certain position on that list.

"There never is a clear-cut numerical ranking," she said. "It's all a matter of tailoring the cleanup plan to what's assessed as risk and what the construction plan is and what risk it's addressing."

Humphrey said it's hard to determine exactly when a site might receive funding, and that the more dangerous sites have precedence.

Brian Farrier, EPA project manager for the site, has said in the past that Brunswick Wood Preserving does not pose a threat as long as people stay outside a fence that surrounds the area. But that may have changed because recent flooding could have washed contaminants into nearby wells.

David Dorian, a member of an EPA emergency response team, was in Brunswick recently to assess possible problems the flooding may have caused. Results from that examination are not in.



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