PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) -When Mississippi Phosphates in Pascagoula declared bankruptcy and shut down three years ago, the company left behind a big mess. A 200-foot tall stack of Gypsum covering close to 300 acres along Industrial Road. As of Wednesday, cleaning up that mess is in the hands of the EPA under a superfund declaration.
Heavy equipment stays busy every working day. The first step is getting rid of all the lime in the stack.
“Right now, we’re digging in three different places," said Craig Zeller, EPA project manager. “Kind of the south side, the central and middle of it and the north side as well. We’ve got a number of articulated dump trucks taking this sloppy lime out to the northeast phase where it will be processed.”
Another by-product left behind is sulfur that has leached into the water surrounding the site, and potentially into nearby waterways, like the Grand Bay Estuary.
‘Well, it’s really a pH issue. Sulfur makes sulfuric acid, of course, so that’s what’s causing our low pH," Zeller said.
Another major concern is heavy rain.
“One inch of rainfall that falls on this stack generates about 9 million gallons of water that was clean that is now contaminated with low pH and high levels of nutrients. We then have to capture that, hold that water, treat that water to meet our standards," he said.
Still, the clean-up task is daunting, according to Zeller.
“We have about 500 million gallons of water on site with a low pH. All that water is kind of in the way, so while it is a pretty straight forward landfill closure, there’s a lot of moving parts to this thing," he said.
Once this huge gypsum stack is made safe by the EPA, it’s got to be covered with something, but with what? Let’s just say it something similar to what you’d find on a football field, something like Astroturf, according to Zeller.
“On top of that will be a fabric. It looks kind of like a carpet that will be backfilled with sand to act as ballast material to hold that down," Zeller said.
Zeller added this clean-up will take time and money.
“Construction season is 2019, 2020 and 2021, over about three phases. Right now, costs are estimated to be around $72 million."
About 40 people have been hired to work on the clean-up at the site. Almost all of them are from the local area.