Meeting offers few answers on Koppers

Published: Tuesday, September 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, August 31, 2009 at 11:22 p.m.

Concerns of Gainesville residents who live next to a federally classified toxic Superfund site were not alleviated Monday night after environmental officials updated the status of remediation efforts and plans.

"Tell cancer no, Koppers has got to go," chanted a particularly vocal group of residents from the neighborhood west of the Cabot-Koppers Superfund Site. They were informed in May that soil samples in the neighborhood exceeded the state standards for the cancer-causing compound dioxin.

"I also would never have purchased my home if it had been disclosed to me that my home was in a Superfund area," said one resident, echoing the sentiments of the many homeowners who had spoken before her.

The commission chambers were full for the joint Gainesville City Commission and Alachua County Commission meeting, but little new information was presented, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency outlined plans to remediate contamination that may have begun in the early 1900s with a wood-treatment plant operated by Koppers and the Cabot Varbon coal-tar business.

And while for 25 years the EPA focused on the underground contamination - caused by creosote, a chemical compound that has leached into the ground from the holding ponds used by Koppers and Cabot over the years - it is now addressing dust that may be blowing into nearby neighborhoods, stormwater runoff that is flowing into area creeks and the very real possibility that underground contamination is migrating off site.

Commissioners expressed a great deal of frustration at the lack of action they could take to expedite a process that has already taken 25 years to get to this point.

"We can express to federal and state agencies our displeasure, and we'll do it again, but we can't force them to stop," County Commission Chair Mike Byerly said of ongoing operations at the Koppers Inc. wood treatment facility.

Commissioners did, however, take steps toward applying political pressure on Koppers customers to stop buying poles treated with chromated copper arsenate, primarily focusing on Florida Power and Light, a massive electric company that buys wooden electric poles from the company.

Additionally, commissioners moved to investigate:

The industrial operating permit Koppers has with the state and possible ways that permit could be denied.

The possibility of testing residents for physical exposure to chemicals like arsenic and dioxins.

Why the EPA refused to remediate the site to residential standards rather than commercial.

Ways Gainesville could require the area to be remediated to residential standards.

Including a storm water retention system as part of the remediation plan.

The next big step in the Cabot-Koppers Superfund process will come in December when the feasibility study has been approved and a "record of decision" can be issued by the EPA. The record of decision will outline how the party financially responsible for the contamination, Beazer East, will spend roughly $25 million cleaning up the 90-acre site.

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