GRU says plans for Koppers fall short


Published: Saturday, January 8, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 7, 2005 at 11:48 p.m.
Proposals based on containing, rather than removing, toxins at the Cabot-Koppers Superfund site may not prevent some of the most dangerous chemicals on the property from reaching the wellfield that supplies most of the Gainesville's drinking water, Gainesville Regional Utilities officials said Friday following the release of a new report on chemicals at the site.
Compiled by an international team of experts for GRU, the report's conclusions contradict many of the claims made by a study of the site released in September by Beazer East, the Pittsburg company responsible for cleanup of the 170-acre site.
GRU officials were quick to reiterate earlier statements that the former wood-treating facility, located near N. Main Street and NW 23rd Avenue, was not an immediate threat to the area's water supply, but said action was necessary to ensure the water remains clean.
"Our water supply is safe, and we want to keep it that way," said David Richardson, GRU interim assistant general manager for water and wastewater systems.
However, Richardson and other GRU officials said the new report supports claims that protecting the area's drinking water would require more elaborate actions than those now proposed by Beazer.
The central dispute between the two reports surrounds the question of whether toxins at the site have been seeping through a layer of clay below the surface, called the Hawthorn Group, and into the Floridan Aquifer below. The Floridan Aquifer feeds into the Murphree wellfield, which supplies about 26 million gallons of water to 170,000 area residents.
"In some ways it goes back to the original concern which is that for years Beazer has been claiming more confidence in the Hawthorn layer than it deserves," Alachua County Environmental Protection Department Director Chris Bird said.
GRU's report concludes toxins are moving through the surface and Hawthorn Group layers into the Floridan Aquifer, and will continue to do so unless remedial actions are taken. The earlier report said chemicals were not being transmitted through the layers, and suggested some contamination detected in the lower layers was moved there during the process of drilling wells for the study.
It would take from 20 to 30 years for water from the Floridan Aquifer to travel the two miles to the Murphree Wellfield, said Rick Hutton, senior GRU water/wastewater utility engineer.
"Its not that we feel like there's an immediate threat that contamination is going to reach the wellfield soon," Hutton said. But allowing it to continue would eventually cause problems for the city's water supply, he said.
The report's conclusions echo those made in November at a meeting among the report's authors and representatives of GRU and several government agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Alachua County Environmental Protection Department.
Richardson said the report's conclusions support GRU's preferred method of decontaminating the site, which involves digging up the contaminated surface layer and much of the Hawthorn Group from the property, and chemically neutralizing toxins in the layer.
"Even though we won't get 100 percent removal it will remediate it to the point where it's no longer a threat," Hutton said.
In addition, at the November meeting officials recommended a number of measure designed to contain chemicals in the Hawthorn Group and Floridan Aquifer and monitor water moving from the aquifer to the wellfield.
Kelsey Helton, a geologist with DEP, said more studies were needed.
"The preliminary data indicates that there is contamination in the Floridan (Aquifer) under the site," Helton said. "There is not enough data at this point to indicate how limited the contamination is."
Mike Slenska, Beazer's environmental manager, said Friday he could not comment on details in the report because he had not yet had time to review it thoroughly.
"We feel very confident to the work we've done to date," Slenska said. "Certainly we'll give any of their comments a thorough review and try to work with their group."
Jeff Adelson can be reached at (352) 374-5095 or adelsoj@gvillesun.com.

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