The wide swath of land covered by the Hercules/Pinova hazardous waste permit in Brunswick involves a site that harbors dangerous chemicals that pose a grave threat to groundwater.
Residents and activists aired their frustrations with the lack of thorough cleanup at the site since the industry received its first hazardous waste permit three decades ago.
At a public hearing held Thursday by the state Environmental Protection Division on renewal of the permit, Mayor Cornell Harvey said city residents feel the industry’s track record has been poor in its handling of waste generated at the plant. He said it was hard to believe what’s happened in the past won’t occur again.
“As the mayor of Brunswick, we want to see a total cleanup of the mess that’s been made,” Harvey said. “It just so happens that it’s in our backyard.”
According to a document provided at the hearing, the draft permit allows storage of hazardous waste up to 90 days, requires maintenance of the more than 100 groundwater monitoring wells, groundwater sampling to monitor the extent of contamination, and submission of a corrective action plan that will describe the cleanup of the 39 solid waste management units identified in the permit.
Glynn County Clerk of Superior Court Ron Adams, who owns property near the plant, said he was told there was going to be a corrective action plan involved with the new permit.
“Every day Hercules delays dealing with the contamination issue, the contamination spreads...,” Adams said. “I’ve been fully engaged with the EPD on this matter since 2013. I’ve traveled to Atlanta (to) EPD headquarters to discuss this issue. In August 2019, (Land Protection Branch Chief Chuck) Mueller and Director (Richard) Dunn told me the delay in the permit was so that when the permit came out it would contain a corrective action plan.”
In this case, if the permit gets approved in its current condition, there is a 90-day period after approval of the permit for Hercules and Pinova to submit their plan, and not necessarily beforehand, he said.
Alice Keyes, vice president of coastal conservation for One Hundred Miles, said one of the reasons people showed up at the hearing was to hold EPD to its mission of protecting and restoring the state’s environment.
“The time has come for that agency to step up and to require polluters to do what they accept responsibility for,” Keyes said. “Water is a public resource. We all have a right to clean, ample, safe water. That may be surface water, that may be groundwater, but it is a public resources that we all have a right to.”
Keyes said EPD is doing its duty by requiring Hercules and Pinova to protect the groundwater to drinking water standards.
“But what we need, as the public, are assurances that any corrective action plan for pollutants that go beyond the current level is actually developed and implemented,” Keyes said. “We have not gotten that today.”
Tim Hassett, remediation project manager for the company Hercules evolved into, Ashland, said there is a corrective action plan in the works, pending renewal of the permit, that will allow for removal of substances onsite in a safe and efficient manner.
He noted remediation can only be accomplished by following the steps set by the EPD and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and that the company is working diligently to handle hazardous waste issues onsite and off site.
David Kyler of the Center for a Sustainable Coast said the risks of contaminants generated at the plant are serious.
“Benzene, like toxaphene, causes cancer,” Kyler said. “Chloroform is linked to liver failure.”
Georgia Environmental Coalition Executive Director Rachael Thompson read from a 2011 letter sent from EPD to Hercules that said the agency wasn’t pleased with the progress at the site and threatened enforcement actions if the company didn’t change its behavior.
“EPD can facilitate enforcement actions that can include fines, consent orders and/or litigation,” Thompson said.
She said it’s important to handle the plume migrating toward residents in the Terry Creek Road community, which is on the other side of U.S. 17 from the facility and accessible from the F.J. Torras Causeway.
Thompson also noted it would help if documents tied to the permit were available online, instead of sequestered as hard copies in the library.
“When reports are sent to the EPD from Hercules or Pinova or their contractors, the public — or at least, community stakeholders — should be notified those reports have been shared with them,” Thompson said.
There is a working idea of what needs to be done, according to the document that lays out permit requirements. It states there are five areas of corrective action, which include vapor intrusion, the former toxaphene tank farm, sitewide soils, shallow groundwater and deep groundwater.
Vapor intrusion is when vapor containing hazardous components comes up from soil and groundwater into basements and crawl spaces, posing a health danger. Investigations are ongoing as to the extent of the problem. Corrective measures will follow once the extent is determined.
The former tank farm consists of tank pads and secondary containment structures. The tanks themselves have been removed.
“In November 2019, Hercules/Pinova removed over 225 tons of contaminated concrete and over 70 tons of toxaphene waste material from (Solid Waste Management Unit) 6,” according to documents.
Further evaluation of the soil’s contamination is planned, along with analysis of data from onsite soils to determine the method for corrective action.
Studies also are ongoing regarding the groundwater and what’s called non-aqueous phase liquids, which are substances that don’t dissolve easily or mix with water. New wells and further testing are to occur with deep groundwater contamination, as well.
The public comment period regarding the Hercules/Pinova site’s hazardous waste permit renewal lasts through March 30.
Those who wish to comment can send submissions to Jim Brown, Program Manager, Hazardous Waste Corrective Action Program, 2 MLK Jr. Drive, Suite 1054, Atlanta, Ga. 30334.