Comments protest Allied Superfund proposal

hduncan@macon.comOctober 8, 2012 

The few public comments received by the federal government about a possible new Superfund site in Macon argue against putting the Allied Industrial Park on the list of the nation’s most contaminated lands.

Commenters representing those who might be responsible for the pollution pointed the finger elsewhere, protesting that the problem was caused by other nearby industrial sources.

As a result of the comments received, the federal Environmental Protection Agency held off on adding the Allied Industrial Park in south Macon to the National Priorities List, more commonly known as the Superfund list.

That listing was expected in September, but EPA officials have said that because the agency needs time to respond to the comments, the final designation has been pushed to the spring.

Properties on the Superfund list can receive federal cleanup funding, although the U.S. government tries to recover the costs from the responsible parties.

According to the EPA, the Allied site has “widespread soil contamination” with pesticides, metals such as mercury and cadmium, and polychlorinated byphenyls (PCBs) which are believed to cause cancer.

Groundwater is contaminated by a plume of trichloroethylene (TCE) which is migrating toward the wetlands around Rocky Creek. Drinking water contaminated with TCE is hazardous to health and is widely considered a probable human carcinogen, but there are no residents nearby with wells.

As proposed, the Superfund listing would include 433 acres where the Department of Defense manufactured ordnance, explosives and detonators from 1941 to 1965, when it was sold to Maxson Electronics Corp., which continued to manufacture ordnance there. Allied Chemical Co. bought it and began making seat belts there in 1973. The land was subsequently turned into an industrial park by the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority.

In its justification for including the Allied site on the Superfund list, the EPA stated that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for “Formerly Used Defense Sites,” has withdrawn plans to clean up the site because it thinks other parties may be responsible. Georgia environmental officials asked the EPA to step in.

In its own letter, the U.S. Department of Defense complained that it had been singled out in the listing, which “fails to discuss the other potentially responsible parties.”

A letter signed by Deborah Morefield, in the office of the deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, stated that “(t)here is a high potential that this contamination originates from a source area on an adjacent (Superfund) site that is currently being remediated.”

Morefield is referring to the Armstrong World Industries site, which was added to the Superfund list a year ago.

It includes former landfills, at least one of which seems to have been used by used by both Armstrong and the Navy. The Defense Department basically is arguing that the contamination comes from Armstrong, which is already a Superfund, so designating the property next door is unnecessary.

Another former owner of the property also argued against its Superfund listing. Unimax, the successor company to Maxson Electronics, hired a firm to submit comments arguing that soil sampling data doesn’t support adding the site to the Superfund list. Its letter said the EPA’s incorrect arithmetic caused soil samples to appear to contain more mercury than background samples, when it doesn’t. The EPA also used too few samples to establish background concentrations and ignored a large volume of high-quality relevant data that contradicted its conclusions, the Unimax letter stated.

The letter pointed to the Graphic Packaging International pulp mill and the Rocky Creek sewage treatment plant owned by the Macon Water Authority as more likely potential sources for mercury contamination. Over the years, the sewage treatment plant has handled waste from the pulp mill as well as a former creosote operation in Macon, both of which created mercury as a waste product.

Besides comments from the potentially responsible parties, the EPA received comments from a few others questioning the legitimacy of the EPA’s overall methodology for choosing Superfund sites.

The Superfund Settlements Project also submitted comments on a group of proposed Superfund sites, including the Allied site.

The group complained that the EPA didn’t adequately explain why the listing was needed. The letter also argued that in the current economic climate, budget pressures may motivate states to shift their own responsibilities to the federal government.

The letter said the EPA needed to demonstrate that the risk at the proposed sites are great enough to justify EPA involvement instead of waiting until states can afford the cleanup themselves.

To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.

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