EPA holds public meeting on Picayune Wood Treating clean-up

Published 5:52 pm Friday, November 9, 2007

The Environmental Protection Agency, along with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, held an availability session followed by a public meeting regarding the cleanup of the site of the former Picayune Wood Treating Facility.

During the availability session, residents were able to speak one-on-one with various officials about any questions they had regarding the site and the removal process.

Once the public meeting began, Karen Buerki, EPA On-Scene Coordinator, discussed the removal process so far and future plans for the remainder of the removal.

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“On site, so far there has been removal of 281 old tires, 16 lead/acid batteries, 4,176 cubic yards of creosote poles, 272 tons of scrap metal, 270 cubic yards of debris, and 7,800 tons of hazardous waste materials,” Buerki said.

Buerki said removal and remediation has been completed at South Side Elementary School, and approximately 800 feet of Mill Creek have been dredged. Also, cleanup has been completed at the old railroad property at the northeast corner of the site.

Buerki said the next phase of removal at J.P. Johnson Park on Rosa Street began on Nov. 6, and should be completed after Thanksgiving, at which point residential clean-up should begin south of Rosa Street.

Buerki said contaminated soil is being removed to a depth of as much as two feet, but in many cases, a layer of clay is being found at shallower depths. The reason for the two foot cut-off, Buerki said, is that most residential contact with the soil does not occur at depths lower than two feet.

“When we hit clay, the clay is usually so thick that the contamination does not seep below the clay layer,” Buerki said.

Buerki estimated a removal completion date of March of next year.

The Rev. Thomas Stubbs asked why cleanup was done at the old railroad property before the residential areas.

“The flow of Mill Creek begins in Picayune and goes through that area before getting to the residential areas. We always want to start cleanup upstream from the source of the contamination, and move downstream. We don’t want to risk recontamination after the cleanup process,” Buerki said.

Charlie Golden is concerned about creosote contamination in soil around water pipes in his neighborhood.

“Water lines run everywhere, and when they break, the city comes to dig them up. One broke across the ditch from my house, and when they dug it up, there was creosote in the soil around the water pipe. How can you determine the soil is clean if you are only going down to a depth of two feet?” Golden asked.

Jerry Banks of MDEQ said research would need to be done into the depth of the water pipes, but said that contamination of drinking water could be a concern if creosote was in the soil around the pipes.

Frank McDonald asked Buerki how soil would be cleaned up from under homes, sheds, and other buildings on the properties.

“If there is no contact with contaminated soil, there is no risk, so homes that are on concrete slabs, according to building codes, are not at risk of contamination from the soil beneath them. As far as sheds and other buildings that are free-standing and not on slabs, we have ways to move those and get up underneath them,” Buerki said.

Several residents are concerned about the area across Rosa Street from J.P. Johnson Park.

“If you did not test that area, how do you know it’s not contaminated? There is a ditch that runs all through that area, and when it floods, you can see a filmy substance on the water,” Don Griffin said.

Ruby Hart, who also lives in the neighborhood across from the park, wanted to know why her property was not sampled.

“I was told the only way creosote could get on my property is if I got a wheelbarrow and brought contaminated soil onto my property. I haven’t gotten a wheelbarrow anywhere, but I’m almost positive there is creosote there,” Hart said.

Dorothy Breland asked if another facility, Stone Treatment, which has had numerous environmental violations in the past, would cause more problems in the future.

Banks said that Stone Treatment is under a cease and desist order to prevent operation, but that if the company applies for a permit, it must be considered by the permit board. Banks said he had heard the area had been rezoned by the City Council, but could not confirm the rumor.

“If the area has been rezoned as something other than open space, we may not be able to re-permit them,” Banks said.

Larry Breland is concerned that the company would try to reopen without obtaining the proper permits.

“If they manage to reopen without the proper permits, we would be back here in a few years with another Superfund site,” Breland said.

Banks said if the facility reopens without proper permits, it would be up to the city or the state to shut it down.

When asked if the Stone Treatment site has been tested, Buerki said Stone Treatment continues to refuse access for the EPA to test the site.

“Access can be sought. We can push for it, but the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act under which we operate does not allow us to take action until there is an immediate threat. We have to wait until the local and state governments do their thing,” Buerki said.

Buerki said an immediate threat would be elevated levels of contaminants in conjunction with open routes of exposure to the chemical.

“We have found arsenic in the ditch from Stone Treatment Facility at 50 parts per million, but that alone is not an immediate threat,” Buerki said.

Charles Lawrence, facilitator of the meeting, said another meeting will be held in the first part of 2008, but did not have an exact date. He said residents’ concerns brought up at this meeting will be addressed and answered at that time.

Information about the repository and the removal process is kept at the Margaret Reed Crosby Library on Goodyear Boulevard and is available to the public.

For more information, go to the website of www.epaosc.net/PicayuneWoodTreating or call the toll-free number of (877) 889-0457.