Originally created 02/25/97

Cleanup of plant brings complaints



Residents are complaining of noxious odors near a toxic chemical cleanup site in south Richmond County, but company officials say the problem is minimal and that odors will be short-lived.

"There's a specific plan to deal with odors if we have a complaint, but we haven't got any complaints," said Mike Pruett, general manager of the Southern Wood Piedmont Co.

Contractors have been working since October to encapsulate contaminated soil and water at Southern Wood's former wood treating plant on Nixon Road. But residents say exposed soil is emitting foul, rash-causing odors.

"It's hurting people's breathing, making our skin burn," said Margaret Roberts of Lynchburg Street, a few hundred feet from the plant boundary. "It started last Monday when I went outside."

Calls to Georgia's Environmental Protection Division prompted an on-site visit last week by representatives who also detected a chemical smell, said Pam Tucker of the Augusta-Richmond County Emergency Management Agency.

"Apparently they're getting some pretty good whiffs of the stuff," she said. The Augusta EMA office had received at least a dozen complaints about the odors as of Monday afternoon.

Mr. Pruett noted that Southern Wood has a toll-free hot line specifically for people with concerns or complaints about odor problems. But no one has called, he said. The number is 1-888-599-1074.

"There has been some odor, but it hasn't been what we deem objectionable," he said. "And it's certainly nowhere near the levels it was when it (the plant) was operating."

For decades, creosote and other wood preserving chemicals were used to treat utility poles and other wood products. Residue was disposed of at the site, as was industry practice before environmental laws were created.

The cleanup now under way involves building a subterranean wall encircling the most contaminated areas. Building the wall requires digging a deep ditch and filling the circular cavity with an impermeable slurry mixture.

Mrs. Tucker said contractors are prepared to respond to odor complaints by spraying an odor-preventive chemical on exposed soil. Such chemicals are used routinely - and successfully - in many landfills, she said.