Toxic leak may affect N. Fayette well water safety

Additional testing performed at the Philips Services Corporation plant just across the Fayette-Fulton County line has shown that chemicals leaked from a now-closed solidification pit into the ground and also the groundwater.

This is the same site just off Ga. Highway 92 and Spence Road where a chemical release of a pesticide six years ago caused short-term illnesses for nearly 800 people who lived near the plant and affected 2,200 households in a three-mile radius of the plant.

PSC sent a notice of the groundwater contamination findings to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division May 1. That report showed groundwater contamination of vinyl chloride, arsenic, barium, lead, selenium, acetone and benzene. The chemicals were detected between five and 12.5 feet underground, according to that report.

While the Fayette County Water System does not draw groundwater from the area, the nearest drinking water well is located at the Landmark Mobile Home Park in north Fayette County, according to the notice submitted by PSC. The Landmark well is two-thirds of a mile from the contaminated site, PSC says in the report.

The water from the Landmark well has not yet been tested to see if it contains any of the contaminants, according to an EPD spokesperson. That may become a requirement for part of the site remediation, said EPD Solid Waste Program Manager Jeff Cown.

“As far as the drinking water, we’ll look at that if we believe the levels are high enough and if the well is close enough we’ll do that,” Cown said. “But we have not made a determination on that.”

The latest tests were ordered by EPD as a part of closing the solidification pit for the site, officials said. Connie Biemiller Thomas, who led a citizen’s task force in the wake of the 2006 chemical release at PSC, urged Fayette and Fulton officials to “become heavily involved with assuring the welfare of our citizens.”

“To find 30 chemicals such as mercury, barium and chromium within our soil is disturbing,” Thomas said. “PSC further reports eight chemicals that have contaminated the groundwater below the depth of five feet or more such as arsenic, barium, lead and vinyl chloride. Each one of these chemicals is alarming on its own and the synergistic effects could be staggering as well.”

Thomas said the task force would want to be involved in the remediation plan created for the PSC site.

If corrective action is necessary, there are a number of ways to clean up the site, including soil removal or treating the soil with pumped-in air. PSC would be responsible for making a suggestion in terms of clean-up and EPD will have the final say on how it is done, Cown said.

Cown noted that PSC was also ordered to do surface water testing on a stream next to the contaminated area. But the stream was down to a trickle recently and was unable to be sampled, Cown explained.

“It’s a little bitty creek,” Cown said.

PSC formerly operated a solid waste processing facility at the site prior to a controversial release of chemicals that sickened nearly a thousand nearby residents and their pets in north Fayette and south Fulton counties in 2006.

That incident resulted in a negotiated “fine” of $100,000 being levied against PSC in a consent order that also required upgrades at the solid waste processing plant, which was later closed.

Fulton County government officials also withdrew sewer access and capped the sewer pipe at the PSC facility so Fulton would no longer accept any chemicals treated by the company.

A lawsuit was subsequently filed against PSC and was settled for $4 million to the owners of more than 2,200 homes in a three-mile radius of the plant.

The chemical release of the pesticide ethoprop and the chemical odorant propyl mercaptan caused symptoms in nearby residents including prolonged nausea, vomiting, headaches and a variety of respiratory problems including first-time diagnoses of asthma and pleurisy subsequent to being exposed to the strong onion-like odor.

The most recently discovered chemicals at PSC were found in the groundwater and also in the ground.

PSC’s May 1 notice also explained that a variety of chemicals from mercury and barium to lead and acetone were found in two depth ranges: from six to 24 inches and “greater than 24 inches.”

The EPD has about 90 days to review the report from PSC and determine what remediation steps, if any, will be necessary, officials said.

In a letter to EPD, a consultant for PSC claims that the former solid waste treatment facility would process “bulk and small quantity shipments of solid non-hazardous wastes.” However, the various chemicals listed in the reports are considered “regulated substances” which can be considered hazardous depending on their concentrations.

In the letter, Quintin G. Macdonald of Environmental Management and Engineering, Inc. indicates that testing ordered by EPD on April 2 resulted in the contamination being discovered. Despite the findings, Macdonald contends that the site currently no longer exhibits elevated concentrations of contamination, particularly in the groundwater results.

While PSC has completely shut down its solid waste treatment plant and no longer has access to the Fulton County sewer system, it continues to operate a 10-day hazardous waste transfer facility that is permitted by EPD and must follow state rules for solid waste management.