EPA removing “public health threat” in Wiggins

By Steve Phillips – bio | email

WIGGINS, MS (WLOX) - Some 30,000 tons of contaminated soil are being removed from the site of an old wood preserving plant in Wiggins.

The EPA began the clean-up in late September, saying the property was "a threat to public health and the environment." A pair of track hoes scoops up contaminated dirt, which is then loaded into a truck for removal.

The EPA says the five acres on West College Avenue was once the home of Southern Pine Wood Preserving. And it says that process of wood preserving is believed responsible for the contamination there.

"This was historically a wood preserving operation here; It operated from 1960 to 1984," EPA on-scene coordinator Stephen Ball said. "And the contaminants which are at the surface and at depth are phenochlorphenyl, polycyclic aromatic hyrdro carbons and dioxins."

The potential risk to the public comes from someone touching the tainted dirt or breathing hazardous dust.

"This area used to be wooded. There may have been kids that played in the woods that may have been exposed. There's definitely a significant exposure threat here," Ball said.

The EPA's clean-up task is rather straight forward: remove all the contaminated dirt, and replace it with clean soil. A bulldozer pushes the hazardous soil into a pile, where the track hoes prepare to load it onto the waiting trucks.

The EPA's survey of the property found the contaminants had leeched into the soil at a depth of about two to three feet throughout the five acre site. And, the contaminants were also threatening nearby Four Mile Creek.

"There's evidence of contamination migrating into that creek. Not addressed, there's no telling how far down the creek it could have gone and what kind of populations it may have affected," Ball said. "We started work on the site around the end of September. And right now it looks like we're going to be out here until the end of the year; possibly into January."

For now, the EPA is covering the cost of the $1.5 million clean-up. The federal agency is working to track down responsible parties, who would then be assessed that cost.

The truck loads of contaminated soil are being taken to a landfill in Moss Point.

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