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
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
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
"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
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
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
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