BRUNSWICK, GA. | An industrial outfall canal on the city’s east side and the contaminated groundwater beneath it has made the Georgia Water Coalition’s annual Dirty Dozen, a list of sites and activities that threaten to pollute water.
The coalition also listed the Camden County Commission’s continued funding of a plan to build a spaceport at Harriett’s Bluff that could result in rockets being launched over Cumberland Island National Seashore.
The Georgia Water Coalition criticized a plan under which the outfall canal from the former Hercules Inc. chemical plant would be filled in with clean soil and a new outfall system installed to empty runoff into Terry and Dupree creeks. The ditch, as environmentalists call it, is not the only problem. Hercules officials now argue that the company should not be required to clean up groundwater because it is brackish and not usable as drinking water.
Benzene and other chemicals have been detected in the groundwater under neighboring properties on both sides of U.S. 17. The chemical plant is west of U.S. 17 and the outfall is piped under the road to a wider canal on the east side.
The problem in the outfall canal is mainly toxaphene, a pesticide the company produced from 1948 until 1980 to kill cotton boll weevils.The EPA banned its production in the 1980s as a possible carcinogen, but it has persisted on the plant grounds and the canal.
The plan for treating the outfall canal has not been approved and environmentalists have adopted a slogan in opposing it.
“We need a cleanup, not a cover up,” said Daniel Parshley, director of the Glynn Environmental Coalition.
That coalition wants the contaminated sediments excavated from the outfall canal before it is filled, he said. To leave it there would simply let it continue to seep into the environment over time.
The outfall canal has been a concern for years, but the more recently discovered threat to the groundwater has come to the forefront.
“The problem I have is not the ditch but the groundwater,” said Jen Hilburn, the Altamaha Riverkeeper.
Monitoring wells on Hercules’ property and that of its neighbors has detected contaminants to varying depths.
Hercules assert that saltwater intrusion has made the groundwater unfit for human consumption and there’s no point in treating it, Hilburn, Parshley and others say.
Hilburn said Hercules had to go all the way to Colorado to find a hydrologist to make that argument, but it is contrary to state law
The hydro-logical report asserts that the aquifer is unusable because of salinity, she said.
“Under Georgia statute, all aquifers are deemed drinkable,” Hilburn said.
Should Hercules win the argument and have the shallow aquifers near its former plant declared unusable, that dodge could spread statewide, Hilburn said.
“If we call aquifers unusable, we can decide not to clean them up. Many people rely on shallow drinking water wells, 75 feet or less,” she said. “This could be a very slippery slope for aquifers across the state.”
Parshley said drinking water wells are in danger just east of Hercules in a community off the western end of the St. Simons Island causeway along Terry Creek.
The Brunswick Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission has already studied extending water lines to the dwellings there, he said.
Ron Adams, who owns a former paint factory on Dupree Creek, says a lot of contaminants have been found in the groundwater beneath his property.
“I think the issue is whether they can eliminate the requirement that they have to clean it up,” Adams said. “There’s going to be a big fight over it.”
Brunswick and Glynn County have both gone on record as wanting the pollutants removed, Parshley said.
As long as the contaminants are in the ground, the taxable value of the properties are reduced and the city and county have a stake in that, Parshley said.
Among its other issues, the Georgia Water Coalition also criticized the Camden County Commission for spending $3 million and committing to spend a total of $6 million to establish a spaceport. Launches could endanger Cumberland Island National Seashore, the coalition said.
The full report also cited Georgia Power Co.’s handling of its coal ash ponds as a threat to wells and criticized the Georgia legislature for diverting $2 million in scrap tire fees intended to clean up tire dumps.
The continued possibility of offshore oil exploration threatens Georgia tourism and wildlife, the report said. Also, the coalition criticized the state for spending $1 million less to fund the Georgia Environmental Protection Division that it did in 2005 when the state had 1 million fewer residents.
Terry Dickson: (912) 264-0405