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Cleanup plan under scrutiny

By ELENA LESLEY
Published June 12, 2007


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TARPON SPRINGS - According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a new plan to clean up the Stauffer Superfund site isn't anything to get excited about.

"It's pretty standard, " remedial project manager Randy Bryant said of the agency's plan to surround contaminants with an underground wall and then cap the area. Such a wall "has been used at more than 130 hazardous waste sites across the country."

But that won't stop local watchdogs from grilling EPA representatives at a meeting from 6 to 8 o'clock tonight at the Tarpon Springs Public Library.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world, " said environmental activist Mary Mosley. "This is just another ploy to get Stauffer off the hook."

Mosley, like some other locals, would like the waste dug up and hauled away.

City Commissioner Robin Saenger is one of them.

"I don't want us to be postponing this for another fix down the road, " she said.

But EPA representatives say that while the fix isn't permanent, it is sufficient and should be a workable strategy for cleaning contamination left by the phosphorus-processing plant.

More workable than the last one, anyway. Field tests to solidify the site through mixing cement with contaminants last year ignited the ground. Elemental phosphorus, when exposed to air, can be extremely flammable.

The EPA has employed underground walls to contain hazardous materials in contaminated spots such as an old General Electric industrial waste disposal site in Moreau, N.Y., and the Scientific Chemical Processing site in Carlstadt, N.J.

Bryant said he had worked with a site next to a river in Plymouth, N.C., that used an underground wall.

Officials hope the new process will be less combustible than the last. Waste ponds on the south portion of the site - the area that was to be solidified - will be surrounded by a wall stretching 10 to 20 feet underground. The area will then be sealed with a watertight cap.

The north section of the property will just be capped. The main concern there is contaminated slag, which stays relatively close to the surface, Bryant said.

The ponds in the south section pose a greater contamination concern, because groundwater could flow through them and spread the contaminants. Hence, the wall.

The wall is designed to reach a layer of soil that's "less permeable and groundwater can't flow through as easily, " Bryant said. In other words, the groundwater won't just filter through and spread contaminants beneath the wall.

But Mosley said she doesn't believe the setup will work, that it's just not deep enough.

"The groundwater will just go below, " she said. "EPA has proven the contamination reaches 90 to 100 feet underground."

Bryant said any major leaks or deficiencies in the wall could be corrected through routine monitoring. The EPA can check soil and water to make sure contamination levels aren't rising.

Small leaks in the wall most likely wouldn't affect the wall's primary objective: to divert the groundwater flow, he said. The wall "would still be doing the fundamental job, " Bryant said.

Though solidification would have had the advantage of locking contaminants in a cement matrix, it simply wasn't feasible with Stauffer's flammable elemental phosphorous, Bryant said.

And just getting rid of the waste isn't even on the table, much to the chagrin of local activists.

"In my mind, anything short of taking it away isn't a permanent solution, " Saenger said.

Elena Lesley can be reached at elesley@sptimes.com or 727 445-4167.

[Last modified June 11, 2007, 23:25:13]


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