EPA holds Availability Sessions regarding elementary school cleanup

Published 6:25 pm Friday, November 2, 2007

The Environmental Protection Agency held two Availability Sessions on Thursday to answer questions about the contaminated soil cleanup at South Side Elementary School.

Karen Buerki, EPA On-Scene Coordinator, said the cleanup started Aug. 9, and was completed Oct. 20, and was focused mainly on the lower elementary school side of the property. Approximately 15,000 cubic yards of soil that was tested to contain elevated levels of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons was removed from the site and replaced with clean backfill and top soil.

Buerki said the levels tested in the soil were about 32 parts per billion.

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“Thirty-two parts per billion is about 30 times higher than it should be. These chlorinated compounds do not occur naturally. They are all synthesized. They should not be in the soil,” Buerki said.

The contaminated soil is a result of the Wood Treating, Inc. facility that operated under various names and owners at 403 Davis St. for more than 50 years. The facility closed in 1999.

Teresa Foster of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said there is potential for a slight health risk due to exposure of the carcinogenic chemicals, but exposure to the chemicals would have to be over a long period of time.

“Exposure to chemicals such as benzo(a)pyrene is a cumulative risk. Our calculations for health risks are based on eight-hour daily exposures for a 30-year lifetime. However, children are especially vulnerable because of their actions. For example, a child will play in the dirt and then put his hand in his mouth. But even at that level of exposure, they would still have to be in contact (with the chemical) for a long time. Of course, each child is different. It depends on the amount of time in contact with the contaminant,” Foster said.

Buerki said contamination also has been found almost exclusively along Mill Creek, which is the next phase of the cleanup.

“If you are in the age group that would play in the creek, if you develop a rash or some kind of skin problem, you might want to have it checked out. Inform your physician that you live in an area impacted by wood treatment chemicals,” Buerki said. “There’s a lot of this stuff in the soil. If you feel sick, go to the doctor. Tell the physician you may have been exposed, especially if you have lived here a long time or worked at the plant. Also, keep a clean house. Don’t eat outside. Remove your shoes at the door so you don’t track contaminated soil into the house. Wash pets because they can track in contaminated soil.”

Buerki said there is a much greater chance of being affected by exposure to the chemical if an individual worked at the facility, or has lived in the affected area for a long time.

“This facility operated in the area for more than 50 years. It is possible several generations could have been exposed. The risk for long-term effects is low, but it is still theoretical,” Buerki said.

Buerki said the next part of the cleanup project will be at J.P. Johnson Park on Rosa Street. After that cleanup is finished, cleanup will begin in the residential area.

“Temporary relocation expenses will be provided if a resident wants to stay in a hotel while we are working on their residence. They also have the option to stay with friends and family,” Buerki said.

Another Availability Session and public meeting will be held at Pleasant Valley Church, located at 501 Weems St., at 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8. For more information, call Stephanie Brown or Karen Buerki at 601-889-0457.