EPA wants to conduct indoor air tests near Koppers


Published: Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 5:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 5:47 p.m.

Moving ahead with plans announced last fall, the Environmental Protection Agency will conduct indoor tests at homes near the Cabot-Koppers Superfund site in order to measure for the carcinogen dioxin and other chemicals.

Next week, the EPA will mail out letters to almost 400 property owners seeking permission to enter homes and collect dust samples that will undergo lab tests, according to Alachua County government.

The current plan is to collect samples from a fraction of the homes that receive letters — 15 homes near the former wood treatment plant off Northwest 23rd Avenue and another 15 "background" homes some two miles away — in order to compare dioxin levels.

Bob Palmer, the chairman of the county's Environmental Protection Advisory Committee, said the indoor testing near the site would focus on homes in the area generally bounded by the Koppers site to the east, Northwest Sixth Street to the west, Northwest 33rd Place to the north and Northwest 25th Avenue to the south.

The EPA previously approved a remediation plan for the Koppers property and nearby residences based on soil testing that showed dioxin levels exceeded the state of Florida's standards both on-site and in adjacent residential yards.

The term dioxin refers to dozens of similar chemical compounds, including some toxic, cancer-causing substances released in combustion and in chemical processes such as the wood treatment process used for decades at the Koppers plant.

Unlike with soil, there are no federal or state standards in place for the allowable levels of dioxin and dioxin-like chemicals in indoor dust, county Environmental Protection Department Director Chris Bird said.

A class-action lawsuit that some Gainesville residents filed against Koppers Inc. and Beazer East, the company responsible for the clean-up of the wood treatment plant and adjacent properties, included test results that showed high levels of dioxin in the dust from homes up to two miles away.

That suit was voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiffs but may be refiled.

In a report last year, a local working group brought together at the direction of the EPA and headed by the Florida Department of Health requested that the EPA authorize tests of indoor dust samples to compare with the levels presented in the lawsuit.

Bird said the request was made because "we were not successful in being able to review the raw data" behind the test results included in the lawsuit.

The testing is expected to occur in March and April, according to a county release.

The Cabot-Koppers site was designated a federal Superfund site more than a quarter century ago, and local government officials and residents have expressed continued frustration over the slow progress of remediation efforts.

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