Cleanup Set To Begin At Picayune Plant

Clean up and monitoring efforts are about to shift into high gear at a former wood treatment plant in Picayune. That's because hazardous chemicals like creosote were used in the wood treatment process. Superfund dollars will help pay for the next phase of the clean up operation.

The plant has been shut down for years, but concerns are still mounting about the old site.

Sandra Johnson has lived on the corner of Davis and Rosa Streets for 15 years, just across the street from the former wood treatment plant. Johnson says she and her neighbors worry about the possible health risks from the toxic chemicals left behind.

"It's a very big concern to a lot of us, everybody's concerned."

Johnson's friend and neighbor Anna Allen told WLOX News, "In this area there's been a whole lot of people dying from heart attacks and cancer."

She believes the old plant has played a role. The chemicals once used to treat lumber at the 29 acre site, creosote and Pentachlorophenol, are known cancer causing agents.

Wood was treated at the site from 1946 to 1999.

Jerry Banks with the Mississippi Department Of Environmental Quality told WLOX News, "Obviously some contamination from this site that is in Mill Creek goes back into the residential area, but based on the information we have today, we don't see that it posses an unacceptable risk to the general public."

Nearly three years ago the EPA conducted an emergency removal operation at the site. It was the first phase of a lengthy process.

The EPA has already contained about 1200 tons of contaminated sludge at the site. The sludge is contained underneath a large plastic cover.

"The mound is lined both on the bottom as well as the top so there's no threat of any type leaking into the surface or even into the ground water," EPA official Gerald Foree' said.

Officials are now trying to determine the best way to dispose of the contaminated soil.

"Throughout the process there will be opportunities for the communities to be involved to comment on things that we're doing. We'll actually have several meetings throughout this process," EPA official Sherryl Carbonaro said.

Resident like Sandra Johnson say they'll be at those meetings looking for answers.

The EPA kicked off its public information program with a hearing Thursday night. EPA leaders say it could take up to 20 years and $5-20 million to clean up the entire site. The former owners of the property will be responsible for some of that cost.

by Al Showers