Historical and present issues regarding the Pinova chemical plant — formerly operated by Hercules — led to the Terry Creek outfall site appearing on the 2017 edition of the Georgia Water Coalition’s “Dirty Dozen” list. However, representatives from Hercules contend the assessment unfairly simplifies and conflates environmental concerns.
The Terry Creek outfall — located on the east side of U.S. Highway 17 just north of the F.J. Torras Causeway, next to the creek — is its own matter and not related to the groundwater debate raised by the Dirty Dozen report, according to Jud Turner, legal counsel for Hercules parent company Ashland. For instance, the outfall’s Superfund status is because of toxaphene Hercules used at the plant in prior decades.
The groundwater controversy centers on a plume of benzene and chlorobenzene migrating off the mill site, through the ground, to property on the east side of U.S. Highway 17. In another way of putting it, while the benzenes are a water issue, toxaphene is a soil issue.
“(Toxaphene) really wants to be in the sediment, and it just sits in there,” said Tim Hassett, Ashland remediation project manager. “It doesn’t want to be in the water at all. If you’ve ever seen it, it’s like sap.”
Procedures are underway between Hercules and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to install a concrete-lined channel at the outfall site. Hassett said it could be accomplished within the next four years.
Turner, who previously served as director of the state Environmental Protection Division, said the question of whether the chemical plume is dangerous to people falls into whether the water is otherwise drinkable, through extraction methods like putting wells into suspected contaminated areas.
“And I think the answer to that specific question, which is the only question right now in the regulatory process, is no,” Turner said. “Because, in its natural condition, it’s saline. Brackish.”
Turner said the company is active with regulators in managing the plume, which he notes is slow-moving.
“Trying to draw any fresh water out of east of (U.S.) Highway 17, right here at this site-specific place, is not going to be a sustainable source of drinking water,” Turner said.
The Dirty Dozen report indicated the EPD’s decision regarding the chemical plume and drinking water could establish a precedent or standard, going forward, weakening groundwater protection throughout the state. Turner contends any decision would be site-specific to areas affected by the plume, and would not be applicable elsewhere.