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Superfund site update

Residents in the area surrounding Picayune Wood Treatment plant Superfund site Thursday night were presented with an update on how the site’s clean up is going.

The Environmental Protection Agency cleanup is going well, but two-and-a-half years later Hurricane Katrina, the storm still reminds workers she was here.

“It’s been quite a chore trying to work around downed trees and root balls,” EPA On-Scene Coordinator Karen Buerki said.

After sharing a brief history of the industry in Picayune, Buerki gave a rundown of how the clean up is progressing.

Picayune Wood Treating first arrived in Picayune in the 1940s and lasted until 1999 when it was shut down. During Picayune’s early years, the area surrounding Picayune Wood Treating was heavily industrialized, Buerki said.

“The only thing that lasted into the 1990s was the creosote plant,” Buerki said.

Treating wood involves using creosote and pentachlorophenol, which preserves the wood. Those substances escaped from the site in storm water and have contaminated the residential areas that grew up around the plant.

Clean-up work has taken place on Picayune Wood Treating’s site and in the surrounding areas where drainage transported the contaminants. Those surrounding areas included South Side Elementary schools, residential areas and Mill Creek, Buerki said.

On-site, EPA has cleaned out 439 tires, 16 lead acid batteries; 4,176 cubic yards of creosote poles and 283 tons of scrap metal. The old creosote poles were either ground up and used on-site to eliminate erosion or sent to Georgia Pacific to be used as fuel.

Clean up of Mill Creek, commonly referred to as “the creosote ditch” by locals, has revealed a number of bottles and other containers that collected some of the creosote and other contamination, Buerki said.

After Buerki went through her brief history of the site and update of how the clean up is going, she opened up the meeting for questions.

Dorothy Breeland asked if the ditches EPA cleaned out will be covered up. Buerki estimated the cost to cover the ditches in the affected area to be about $4 million so EPA will not cover the ditches. If the work were to be done, it would be the responsibility of city officials, Buerki said. That projected cost estimate was made before Hurricane Katrina so the price is expected to have increased.

Larry Breland asked how the area surrounding Picayune Wood Treating came to be contaminated. Buerki said creosote and the other chemicals used to treat the wood bond to soil sediment and when rain or water carry the soil into drainage ditches, the contamination follows the path of drainage ditches. Historically the city would dig the ditches out as part of their regular maintenance, unknowingly putting the contaminated soil into the back yards of residents.

Another resident, Steve Heard, asked if the contamination could pose a hazard through airborne dust. Most of the cleanup has involved soil that is wet in nature, Buerki said. In areas where the soil was dry, a water truck is to keep the soil moist, cutting down on dust. In addition, monitors were set up in clean-up areas to detect contaminated dust. Those monitors have been in use every day during on-site and residential cleanup.

When Buerki’s work is done, Michael Taylor and his crew will come in to do remedial work on the site, including installing caps and slurry walls on contaminated areas. The tentative time line has Buerki finishing her work in four to five weeks, depending on weather. The remedial project design will begin when Buerki is done, and work based on that design is expected start in 2009. The remedial project is slated to be complete by 2011.