One Georgia Superfund site damaged by Irma; others under review

All along the Georgia coast, industry has left toxins, enough that dozens of sites have been deemed dangerous by the state and federal governments. 

After Tropical Storm Irma caused what some called “unprecedented” flooding and damaging winds, officials said they began working to ensure no new dangers were created. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found concerns only at one of Georgia’s 22 Superfund sites, said spokeswoman Dawn Harris-Young. The Superfund designation is given to sites deemed potentially dangerous from contamination.

The Terry Creek site, an old property of the Hercules LLC operation, in Brunswick is the one site that needs work, according to the EPA. The storm damaged fencing and an outfall ditch. 

But Harris-Young said the EPA was already aware of sediment contaminated by the pesticide toxaphene migrating from the ditch, which backs up to the marsh. Remediation is in the works.

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The Georgia Department of Natural Resources was set this week to start checking state Superfund sites. 

“The plan is to focus on those east of I-95 as they would be most likely to have issues,” said Kevin Chambers of DNR.

To the east of I-95, there are 48 state Superfund sites, 37 in the Savannah area, 10 around Brunswick and one in St. Marys.

“(The state) will review these sites,” Chambers said in an email, “but since they all involve historical releases, we don’t expect significant impact to the existing contamination.”

It’s important after a natural event like Irma to make sure polluted sites haven’t been compromised, said Wendy Heiger-Bernays, an environmental health professor at Boston University. 

“You would want to know how the contaminants are contained if they are contained,” she said.

In Glynn County, there are four federal Superfund sites, more than any other Georgia county.

RELATED: Along Georgia’s coast the long recovery after Irma begins

RELATED: In St. Marys, Irma sinks boats and docks, sending Styrofoam into roads

RELATED: Coastal residents prepare for massive cleanup effort

Brunswick City Manager James Drumm said last week he was concerned about all the area Superfund sites, but he was particularly worried about what Irma might’ve done to the Terry Creek site. 

He said he knows it flooded. Officials have been concerned about the site for years.

Toxaphene, the contaminant there, has been shown to lead to neurological and developmental issues in children and fetuses.

The Terry Creek property is not far from Glynn Avenue and the Hercules plant, which is a state Superfund site.

“Glynn Avenue was under four feet of water,” Drumm said, adding that at least part of the Hercules property also flooded. The flooding made the city manager supportive of having all the local polluted sites checked.

Despite the large number of Superfund sites in the county officials have said they aren’t concerned that flooding could’ve caused problems for the local drinking water. The water supply comes from too far underground to be compromised, said Jay Sellers, spokesman for the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission.

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