A closer look: Glynn County’s Superfund sites

Four of Georgia’s nationally listed toxic waste sites are concentrated in this coastal city, where decades of cleanup continues.
The Brunswick Wood Preserving Superfund Site, Feb. 7, 2024, Brunswick, GA. (Photo Courtesy of Justin Taylor/The Current GA)

Credit: Justin Taylor

Credit: Justin Taylor

The Brunswick Wood Preserving Superfund Site, Feb. 7, 2024, Brunswick, GA. (Photo Courtesy of Justin Taylor/The Current GA)

This story was originally published by The Current GA.

No sign tells you you’ve arrived at a Superfund site, but Rachael Thompson, the executive director of Glynn Environmental Coalition knows the four Brunswick-area ones well and regularly takes curious local citizens on tours of them.

“We were founded in 1990 by a group of concerned citizens that was wondering how we had so much pollution in our environment, why we continue to have high levels of health-threatening pollution, and what they could do about it,” she told a group of nine intrepid residents on a nippy Saturday morning in February. “So the fact that you’re here today means that you share that concern, and you share that interest in educating yourselves and being a part of the change that we want to see in our communities.”

Rachael Thompson, executive director of Glynn Environmental Coalition, discusses the Terry Creek Dredge Spoils Superfund site. (Photo Courtesy of Mary Landers/The Current GA)

Credit: Mary Landers

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Credit: Mary Landers

Carpooling from site to site, Thompson spent the morning explaining about the federal law that governs the cleanups and how the individual sites got contaminated in the first place.

The Superfund law, more officially The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, was passed in 1980 to identify and clean up toxic waste sites throughout the U.S. It arrived on the heels of sweeping environmental legislation including the Clean Water Act as well as environmental activism by ordinary citizens, notably Lois Gibbs, whose efforts led to the clean up of the Niagara Falls neighborhood of Love Canal.

The Superfund was initially well funded with taxes on the chemical and petroleum industries.

“It was a super fund, like a literal super fund of money,” Thompson said. “And it was all intended to go to community cleanups to get the hazardous waste out of these out of these communities.”

In 1995, however, then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich discontinued its polluters-pay funding.

Since then the money for the Superfund program has come mainly through appropriations from the general revenue, Environment America reports. In recent years, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invested $3.5 billion in environmental remediation at Superfund sites, — though none in Georgia — and the Inflation Reduction Act reinstated the Superfund petroleum tax, adjusts the tax rate for inflation, and adds a cost-of-living adjustment for future years. It’s expected to generate $11.7 billion in revenue over a decade, EPA reports.

One of the Superfund “tourists” in February, Ann Pequigney, was already a fan of Thompson and the GEC and had attended its online forum about hazardous waste.

“That prompted me to actually want to physically drive around and see where these places are,” she said.

John Cowlishaw, an area resident for seven years, was already environmentally engaged before the tour. He’s a pilot who’s volunteered to fly for the nonprofit South Wings, a nonprofit that partners with conservation groups for an aerial view of environmental issues. He knew the Superfund sites were there, but got a broader perspective on their history from the tour.

“I’ve really tried to try to be a good citizen and becoming a Georgian trying to find out all things Georgia,” he said.

An ‘orphan’ site: Brunswick Wood Preserving

The GEC tour’s first stop was Brunswick Wood Preserving, a flat, fenced field dotted with a few trees; yellow PVC-pipe test wells; and a mammoth, rusty auger. The wood preservative creosote, used onsite for railroad ties and telephone poles to lengthen their lives, had left behind arsenic and copper, among other pollutants. “This site is all the way through the clean up process,” Thompson said.

The site lays between two railroad lines, making it prime for industrial redevelopment. The biggest problem now is its lack of ownership.

“This site is actually what we call an orphan site, which means that it does not have an owner,” Thompson said. “If you look at who owns this property, it’s Brunswick, Escambia, which is the name of the business owner, the LLC, that owned this property back in the day. They administratively dissolved, filed bankruptcy, they don’t exist anymore. But if you go to the tax records, they still own it. So what does that mean? No one actually owns it.”

Because there is no polluter and there’s no responsible party, there’s no one for the EPA to go back to and charge the bill, except taxpayers.

The largest site: LCP Chemicals

Next up was LCP, the largest of Brunswick’s Superfund sites.

“Most of the the site is on marsh because of the level of contamination that they put into the marsh. So it’s 813 acres total,” Thompson said. “And 80 is actual developable land.”

Manufacturing activities, including an oil refinery, a paint manufacturing company, a power plant and a chlor-alkali plant, contaminated the site, which sits next to a highly visible landmark in Brunswick, the Georgia Pacific Cellulose Mill.

The LCP Chemicals Superfund Site, Feb. 7, 2024, Brunswick, GA. (Photo Courtesy of Justin Taylor/The Current GA)

Credit: Justin Taylor

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Credit: Justin Taylor

“The EPA actually went in and shut down this facility,” Thompson said as tour members gazed across the marsh. “When the EPA went on site that day, to close the facility down, they were wearing Class D hazmat suits, which is respirators, you know, every part of their body is covered… there was elemental mercury on the ground.”

GEC and other activists have struggled to ensure that local anglers know of the seafood consumption advisories in the area. The site has a list of about 150 chemicals of concern, with the main ones being are mercury, a neurotoxin, and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), a probable carcinogen.

Landfill that leaked: Hercules 009 Landfill

The tour heads next to the Hercules 009 Landfill, the smallest of the sites. Hercules’ predecessor made ammunitions. After WWII, demand decreased. “And so they transitioned their manufacturing to making toxaphene, which is a pesticide similar to DDT, very persistent in the environment, very toxic,” Thompson explained.

The fenced, nearly 17-acre site sits next to a new housing development, Beverly Villas. Hercules dumped its waste at the north end of the site. After it was determined to contain toxic chemicals it was named a Superfund site.

“The main problem at this site was the landfills themselves, and then some outstanding groundwater issues from the chemicals in the landfills leaching off site,” Thompson said.

Hercules 009 Landfill Superfund Site, Feb. 7, 2024, Brunswick, GA. (Photo Courtesy of Justin Taylor/The Current GA)

Credit: Justin Taylor

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Credit: Justin Taylor

110 years of industrial waste: Terry Creek Dredge Spoils/Hercules Outfall

Hercules is also the responsible party for the last site on the tour, the Terry Creek Dredge Spoils/Hercules Outfall site. The site consists of four source areas – three disposal areas and the outfall ditch – in between the Hercules Brunswick facility and the Back River. These areas are contaminated with toxaphene, a chlorinated pesticide, caused by discharges by Hercules LLC (formerly known as Hercules Incorporated) during the manufacturing of toxaphene from the former pesticide plant. Thompson recounted how a ditch running through the marsh became contaminated first by the munitions manufacturing then by pesticides.

“So we’re talking about over 110 years of industrial waste that was dumped there, largely unregulated up until the ‘70s and ‘80s,” she said.

That contamination was spread through the marsh by dredging, and then animals like shrimp that foraged in the marsh.

“The unfortunate part is when you tell people that it’s just over 200 acres, and they’re working on two acres, people are like, ‘you gotta be kidding me.’ But again, we have to acknowledge that they’re trying to address the most contaminated area first.”

Clean up at the Terry Creek Dredge Spoils/Hercules Outfall Superfund site, Feb. 7, 2024, Brunswick, GA. (Photo Courtesy of Justin Taylor/The Current GA)

Credit: Justin Taylor

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Credit: Justin Taylor

The site is in the Superfund alternative program.

“At any point in time, if Hercules decides to dip out and be like, we don’t want to do this anymore, the EPA is going to be caught in court battling for them to come back to the table. So they do have to make compromises. But what I also tell people is, generally, the EPA is always going to be looking at the risk assessments, that’s the basis of everything that they do. So if they can get the polluter to do something that eliminates the risk based on what the property is now, and that’s what they’re gonna do.”

Upcoming Superfund information event: Superfund Field Trip – April 13, 2024 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Meet at Lanier Plaza by the Truist ATM. Join the Glynn Environmental Coalition to visit and learn more about Glynn County’s hazardous waste sites.


Credit: The Current GA

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Credit: The Current GA


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