MDEQ collects public comments on permitting of Stone Treated

Published 5:13 pm Wednesday, June 25, 2008

MDEQ collects public comments on permitting of Stone Treated

By Jeremy Pittari/Item Staff Writer

Picayune residents expressed resistance to further pollution in their community that would might take place if Stone Treated Materials is allowed to resume operations.

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Community resistance was strong at a permit hearing Tuesday night held at the Picayune High School auditorium by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. Even though only a few dozen residents showed up, nearly everyone shared some concern about the Stone Treated Materials operating again off of Davis Street.

Stone Treated Materials was issued cease and desist orders in 2007 for failure to correct nine violations of MDEQ rules and regulations. The company is now reapplying for their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, which could allow them to operate again.

A number of residents took the opportunity at the public hearing to express their reasons why the company should not be allowed to reopen, including the possible threat of increased pollution and health problems that could follow. The site where Stone Treated Materials treated wood is adjacent to the current Superfund Site that used to be Picayune Wood Treating. Picayune Wood Treating used creosote to treat wood. Stone Treated Materials used chromium, copper and srsenic to treat wood. All three chemicals used by Stone Treated Materials could be harmful in sufficient quantities, said Jerry Cain, MDEQ Director of Pollution Control.

Most residents attributed theirs and their family member’s health problems, including cancer, tumors and asthma, to the chemicals used to treat wood. Melanie Griggs said she has had to have six tumors removed from her thyroid gland before she was 25. Next month her thyroid gland has to be removed.

“Have the chemicals played a part? I don’t know,” Griggs said.

A number of community members described how they suspect the chemicals used by the companies in wood treatment caused their family members to die from cancer or any number of ailments.

“It’s an atrocity to this community to allow this plant to be permitted by this board,” city council member Leavern Guy said.

Guy presented a letter from the city that stated the city council’s opposition to MDEQ issuing the permit and a list of 300 names also in opposition. That letter and list were made part of the record.

Cain said there are about 26 sites in the state of Mississippi that use CCA to treat wood. Resident Larry Breeland said according to his research, he estimates about 80 percent of those sites are located in minority or low income areas where land is cheaper.

The permit applied for could allow Stone Treated Materials to discharge storm water into the Mill Creek. That creek, nicknamed “Creosote Creek,” runs in and around residential areas in Picayune.

“If that’s allowed to flow in Mill Creek, then everybody in that area would be affected by that arsenic. We look at legally right and morally wrong. If this is allowed, you all are going to giving these people a death sentence,” Breeland said. “If you lose one life in that area, that is priceless.”

The Rev. W. Goldin suggested that the arsenic used in the wood treatment could become airborne and that could cause a number of health problems to the people in the surrounding areas.

“We realize what affects any of us can affect all of us way down the road,” Goldin said.

Other residents suggested that the site needs to relocate somewhere else, away from their community.

The permitting process begins with the public hearing held Tuesday. Public comments were collected at it. Those comments will be presented to members of the permit board. The permit board consists of seven members, comprised of department heads from agencies such as the Department of Marine Resources, Department of Health, Mississippi Wildlife and Fisheries and the Department of Agriculture to name a few, Cain said.

Comments made at the hearing, the company’s past compliance history, or lack thereof, and staff recommendations will be considered by the board before approving or denying the permit, Cain said. A court reporter was present to make a verbatim account of the hearing, which will be part of the record.

If the permit board’s decision is disputed, it will go through a series of appeals, the last of which would be the Mississippi Supreme Court, Cain said.

An exact date for the board to consider the permit has not been set, but Cain said it would be no earlier than August and could be later. When a decision is made, he said community members, such as Guy, would be notified of the decision.