Robert Pearce: Koppers cleanup not perfect, but only realistic solution


Published: Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 8:16 p.m.

The June 12 Gainesville Sun editorial, “Shed the stigma,” regarding recovery following cleanup of the Koppers Superfund site, was spot on.

Even after the site was added to the National Priorities List in 1983, remediation remained a back-burner issue for decades, during which time the environmental damage at the century-old, 90-acre wood-treatment facility only became worse — and nearby properties became increasingly contaminated from fugitive dust.

The plant was finally closed down in 2010 and now the consent decree between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Beazer East to remediate the site is on the verge of being approved by the Department of Justice. The $90 million remediation process is set to begin in earnest.

In an ideal world, the environmentally responsible party should be required to remove all contamination from the site. But much of it is creosote-type material, which makes that alternative impracticable — it's hazardous waste, and enough to literally fill Ben Hill Griffin Stadium three times over.

On-site solidification, stabilization and immobilization within an engineered, sub-surface containment area is unfortunately the only realistic alternative to effectively treat the most heavily contaminated 30-acre portion of the site.

The contamination outside the containment area is primarily surficial, and will be remediated so as to meet Florida's commercial soil cleanup target levels. This will allow redevelopment of the site that can become an asset to the surrounding community.

Multiple batteries of sophisticated testing of the soils on properties surrounding the site indicate that about 90 residential properties have contaminant levels that exceed Florida's very rigorous residential soil cleanup target levels.

Removal of about one foot of surface soil will be necessary to ensure a thorough cleanup, to be followed by replacement with clean soil and new landscaping of the property owners' choosing. On-site remediation will begin almost immediately following the Justice Department's approval of the consent decree, and is expected to take five or six years to complete.

The off-site cleanup will begin this winter, when trees are most dormant and best able to tolerate the soil replacement process. It will be completed within several months.

We are all well aware this is not a perfect solution to set right the consequences of 100 years of environmental negligence, but the remedial actions set forth in the EPA's record of decision are expected to be protective of human health and the environment, and statutory reviews will be conducted every five years throughout the life of the site to ensure effectiveness of the remedy.

Upon completion, the site will be ideally suited for mixed-use-type redevelopment, and there is every reason to expect a strong reinvestment and revitalization process to begin in the entire surrounding area.

We should take this whole experience as a lesson — abuse of our environment comes at a heavy price, and we need to pay close attention to what we are doing to it.

Robert Pearce is president of the Stephen Foster Neighborhood Association.

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