Beazer seeks less strict standards for dioxin clean-up near Koppers


Published: Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 8:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 11:08 p.m.

In the latest development involving the the Cabot-Koppers Superfund site, Beazer East has proposed a clean-up standard for off-site soil pollution that is far less restrictive than the current state guidelines and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirement.

As part of a draft remediation plan for the former wood treatment plant and adjacent neighborhood off Northwest Sixth Street, Beazer officials conveyed this message in a letter sent to dozens of residents in the Stephen Foster Neighborhood who allowed soil samples to be collected from their yards last September.

The samples were then tested for the presence of dioxin, a carcinogen that was a byproduct of the wood treatment process.

In the letter, Mitchell Brourman, senior environmental manager for Beazer East, stated the company's goal for off-site soils was 95 parts per trillion of dioxin.

By contrast, Florida Department of Environmental Protection's current target level for residential properties is seven parts per trillion.

That is also the requirement the EPA proposes in the draft remediation plan for the neighborhood surrounding the Cabot-Koppers site, 200 NW 23rd Ave.

"It was very clear by that letter that the responsible party, Beazer East, is attempting to use minimum clean-up standards," Gainesville City Commissioner Lauren Poe said during Thursday's City Commission meeting.

On Thursday, the City Commission voted to prepare a letter to the EPA to express concern about the Beazer proposal and to again push for more stringent standards. The Alachua County Commission may consider a similar letter at next Tuesday's meeting.

"For the City Commission and the County Commission, an important part of our overall concerns has been meeting the state standards (for dioxin)," said county Environmental Protection Department Director Chris Bird. "This is approximately 13 times less protective."

Currently, the EPA plans to maintain the more stringent requirements in the draft plan.

"EPA stands by the clean-up standards in the plan" agency spokeswoman Dawn Harris-Young said Thursday.

In September, samples were collected approximately one block from the northern edge of the property and out to Northwest Sixth Street to the west of the property.

At the Cabot-Koppers property line, dioxin levels ranged from 46 parts per trillion to 1,302 parts per trillion. On residential properties, levels ranged from 3.4 parts per trillion up to 60 parts per trillion.

All samples were under the less strict guidelines of 95 parts per trillion of dioxin that Beazer has proposed.

"What is of concern to me is that Beazer is trying to minimize the remediation they are required to do at off-site residential properties," said Robert Pearce, president of the Stephen Foster Neighborhood Association.

In a three-page letter to residents, Brourman noted that dioxin levels decreased "rapidly" moving west from the Cabot-Koppers property line, but then increased again near Northwest Sixth Street "possibly because of the presence of a source (or sources) in that area."

He wrote that test levels were below the current agency-wide EPA remediation goal for residential properties of 1,000 parts per trillion and below a proposed EPA standard for residential properties of 72 parts per trillion.

"These results provide strong indication that … concentrations detected in soils west of the former Koppers plant do not pose an unacceptable risk to residents," Brourman wrote.

He cited a June 2010 Florida Department of Health review of previous soil samples collected from public right-of-way, which concluded that ingestion of "very small amounts" of soil in the area does not pose a health hazard to children or adults.

Brourman also cited a November letter from the Centers for Disease Control's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry stating that, "adverse outcomes associated with dioxin exposures have not been reported in populations exposed to dioxin at the levels seen to date in the community surrounding the Cabot-Kopper's property."

Brourman wrote that one-quarter of the soil samples collected were below the state's "default" standard of seven parts per trillion and that Beazer officials believed "the reported exceedances of this very conservative default value do not indicate that any potential health risk exist that require remediation."

"We stand behind the things we put in that letter," Brourman said in a phone interview Thursday.

He said there is ongoing debate between scientists and officials at regulatory agencies such as the EPA and Florida Department of Environmental Protection over what levels of dioxin in soils pose a health risk and "this particular site happens to be in the middle of that debate."

Pittsburgh-based Beazer East operated the plant from 1916 to 1988 and is responsible for funding and seeing through the future clean-up of the western 90 acres of the contaminated site.

Staff writer Chad Smith contributed to this report. Contact Christopher Curry at chris.curry@gvillesun.com or 374-5088.

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