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EPA again urged to study cleanup site
Agency promises thorough testing

 
 


By Terry Dickson

Times-Union staff writer
Sept. 4, 2003

BRUNSWICK -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency failed to assess the public health risks from the LCP Georgia Superfund site in the 1990s and should undertake a study now, a federal ombudsman said.

Speaking to a crowd of environmentalists and neighbors of the plant yesterday at Arco United Methodist Church, Ronnie Wilson of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said he has recommended the study and believes he has the attention of officials who can get it done.

"I said, 'You owe them one,''' Wilson said of the unfulfilled promise to determine what if any effects chemicals from the plant may have had on the surrounding neighborhoods.

Wilson said the LCP site is just one of several around the country where the studies were promised but not done.

The EPA placed the former chemical plant on its National Priorities List in 1996 and oversaw the removal of thousands of tons of upland and marsh soil and the treatment of groundwater contaminated with mercury, PCBs, barium and other hazardous chemicals.

The cost of the cleanup, which has topped $100 million, has been paid thus far by former owners Allied Signal, ARCO and Georgia Power.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry would gather data from EPA, state Environmental Protection Division and other agencies to make the assessment, Wilson said.

There is, however, a problem. The EPA has not done the necessary tests, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry can't do its own, Wilson said.

"Your facility is closed. You have workers likely impacted and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health never looked at workers,'' Wilson said.

Former workers have told of being soaked with leaking mercury, frequent explosions and chlorine leaks and wading in workplaces flooded with contaminated water.

The former owner of the plant, the chief operating officer and a former plant manager are in prison for violating federal environmental laws. Others who pleaded guilty and helped in the investigation have served shorter sentences.

Kevin Pegg, a Fernandina Beach scientist who analyzes EPA findings, said the testing has always fallen short.

And longtime neighbors, many of whom still live near LCP, want to know what's in the soil and air.

"There were only a handful of tests in the neighborhood. Our expectation in the 1990s was there'd be extensive testing into the neighborhood,'' Pegg said. "We just want to see the place tested and see what the extent of the contamination is.''

Environmentalists and other observers said the EPA accomplished a lot early on as an emergency response team quickly cleaned up the worst of the contamination. There has been little since, however, because the agency repeatedly shifted remedial project managers who have the responsibility of a long-range cleanup plan. The newest, Shea Jones, who has had the job four months, is the seventh in seven years.

Jones told the crowd that the testing may well go into the neighborhood as she determines the boundaries of the Superfund site. The original team stopped at or near LCP's fence line, where the worst contamination stopped, but Jones pledged to test beyond plant property to determine the true boundaries of the Superfund site.

Many residents say they don't know what's in their backyards.

Christine Turner has lived for 48 years in what was once a neighborhood of company houses for workers at the former Atlantic Richfield refinery. She bought another house there 12 years ago and is now questioning the decision.

"I would have never bought my home there if I had known about this," she said. "I want the area tested and if it's contaminated, clean it up."

With all the talk about contaminants, Turner said she couldn't sell her house if she wanted to.

George Patelidas is a part owner of about 50 acres crowded with houses and a mobile home park.

"It's going to be a contaminated site until you prove different,'' Patelidas told the EPA representatives. "I'm asking you to make haste.''

The EPA has promised it will get some answers, and Rob Asbell, a representative for U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., said Kingston wants to help.

Jones pledged to move the project forward, and her supervisor, new EPA Section Chief Randall Chaffins, made the same commitment.

Staff writer Terry Dickson can be reached at (912) 264-0405 or via e-mail at tdicksonjacksonville.com.
 

 

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