Representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were in Pensacola Tuesday evening, to gather public opinion on a proposal to clean up part of the Escambia Treating Company Superfund Site.
The location contains severe contamination and is acting as the “source area” of the groundwater plume leaving the former ETC Facility. The EPA’s Erik Spalvins says it has to be addressed before the rest of the cleanup can begin.
“The plume goes for about a mine and a half, all the way to Bayou Texar,” said Spalvins. “There’s no sense in doing work in the downgrading portions of the plume until we cut off the head of the snake – that’s one way to think about it. Once we eliminate the source of the groundwater contamination, then we’ll have a better chance of seeing the rest of the cleanup.”
The plume began when the Escambia Treating Company started treating lumber and other wood products in 1942, until its closing in 1992. This latest proposal is a follow-up to a 2008 decision by EPA to clean up the site.
Frances Dunham with Citizens Against Toxic Exposure, or “CATE,” says there were at least three kinds of chemicals used to treat wood at the site – all of which found their way to the groundwater.
“How on earth did they let all this contamination spread for 22 years (after ETC was closed)?” asked Dunham. “It’s gone into drinking water supplies….this is really intolerable.”
The initial focus of the proposed cleanup appears to be creosote. Erik Spalvins at EPA says that involves a technique called “Steam-Enhanced Extraction.”
“When you’re trying to remove contaminants like creosote, they’re very thick,” said EPA’s Erik Spalvins. “And so you can use heat to make them thinner, just the way motor oil in your car engine gets thinner when it gets hot.”
While the steam pushes the contaminants through the aquifer, the suction produced also removes the creosote in its three different forms: liquid, dissolved, and vaporized. Steam-enhanced is considered the best of three methods considered; the other two involved containment – building a wall around the pond, or sealing it in concrete.
EPA will accept public comment on the proposal through September 15. The plan can be found at http://www.epa.gov/region4/superfund/sites/npl/florida/escwprefl.html.