EPA: Creosote testing poorly handled

Published 11:36 pm Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The federal government has said testing for creosote by the city of Hattiesburg in a neighborhood near a closed plant was inadequate.

In a letter to the city earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency said the work done by APEX Environmental Consultants to determine whether the soil and groundwater of the residential neighborhood in south Hattiesburg was still contaminated with creosote did not comply with its standards and protocols.

The Hattiesburg American reports that the Forrest County Environmental Support Team, a group of environmental activists and property owners, has asked the city to test again.

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Officials at APEX told the newspapers that they had no comment at this time.

City officials said they hope to talk with the EPA representatives to determine what the next step will be.

Hattiesburg’s Gulf States Creosote Plant shut down nearly 50 years ago, but the clean up of creosote continued for many years.

The chemical company Tronox, formerly Kerr-McGee Chemical Corp., ironed out an agreement with Norfolk Southern Railroad to clean a ditch that ran about 100 yards along the northwest side of the railroad tracks.

Gulf States operated the plant from the 1930s until about 1960, when it was acquired by Union Camp. Kerr-McGee ultimately acquired control of the plant, which sits on about 20 acres in south Hattiesburg.

Creosote was found in the ground at the site after the company went out of business in the 1960s.

Sometime prior to 1960, the creosote seeped into the ground of an old industrial park in the area, which then drained, contaminating several blocks near the plant, environmental agencies said.

In its Nov. 6 letter to Mayor Johnny DuPree, Dawn Taylor, a member of the EPA’s Site Evaluation Section, said APEX failed to test for the primary constituents normally associated with creosote contamination. Taylor also said APEX failed to keep information on times when soil was collected and details of what it found.

The city hired APEX in 2007 at the request of residents, who are convinced the chemical is still present in their neighborhood. The city paid APEX $60,000 to review the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality’s past investigation of the same area.

In 2008, APEX told city officials that although trace amounts of the pollutant were found in several groundwater samples, it did not pose a threat to residents.

Exposure to creosote can cause mild health problems such as rashes to more severe, including liver and kidney problems and cancer.