Monday, May 23, 2011

EPA Orders Hattiesburg Mississippi Manufacturer to Extend Testing Operations

Hercules plant is being tested for contamination
Beyond the former site.
by Duane Craig

A former multi-faceted manufacturer in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, was notified by the Environmental Protection Agency to begin testing for contamination beyond its former site. The company, Hercules, made resins, rubber and pesticides until 2009 in that community. It is now owned by Ashland, Inc., who bought it in 2008.

One of the named contaminants is benzene, found in groundwater, soil samples and sediment. Humans exposed to it have negative effects on the central nervous system including dizziness and headaches. The testing has to extend to about a half mile from the plant but residents say that may not be far enough to discover the whole problem. Hercules is also supposed to provide a plan to the EPA on how it will sample and analyze drinking water from a 4-mile radius. Wetlands, creeks, lakes and ditches within a half mile require sediment samples and analysis. The work rounds out with soil gas samplings and checks on indoor air quality.

One part of the potential problems at the Hercules plant surrounds an IB basin 250 feet long, 70 feet wide and 10 feet deep. According to the EPA it had no bottom liner, had sides lined with boards and was bordered on the south by a runoff collection ditch. The basin accumulated about 8 cubic yards of sludge per day up until 1980. When it had to be cleaned the sludge was put into other unlined pits on the property.

Boiler ash was also disposed of in an industrial landfill on the property along with other wastes. A creek runs through the property and it empties into the Bouie River that feeds the Leaf River. All of this is more troubling since groundwater in the area is quite shallow ranging from 5 to 22 feet below ground surface.

Besides benzene, chlorobenzene, carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, I-2 dichloroethane and toluene have been found at the site in levels exceeding the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality’s Tier 1 Target Remediation Goals.

In 1993 the EPA finished a site inspection at the facility and found more than 35 acres of contaminated soil. The contaminants found then included cadmium, lead, cobalt, mercury, toluene, methyl ethyl ketone, benzene, PCBs and acetone.

From 1997 to August 2005, Hercules had drilled sampling wells and monitored the groundwater. It had a total of 19 wells on the grounds where the facility operated. The main contaminants found in the groundwater were benzene, carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, methyl chloride and 1,2-dichloroethane. In 2009 Hercules sunk additional wells around the basin and found five contaminants above limits in three of the five wells. Providence Street borders the property on the east and samples taken from a sewer line there showed contaminants within it, suggesting the chemicals were finding a way into the city’s sewer system.

Local residents who have spoken out are glad the EPA has stepped in to handle the situation since it is perceived to have the necessary clout to move the process along. One resident claimed all the drainage from the facility went through Hattiesburg since the beginning of operations there. People there have also complained about the ongoing pollution from the plant causing health problems.

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