Former clients of a bankrupt Richmond County hazardous waste recycler will be asked to help offset the costs of a state-funded cleanup of the area.
Meanwhile, Georgia's Environmental Protection Division has posted a 24-hour guard at the former Alternate Energy Resources site off Walden Drive because of a potentially dangerous mix of volatile and incompatible chemicals.
"Our inspection determined uncontrolled waste and incompatible waste, meaning there are flammables near oxidizers, and acids near bases," said Jim Brown, the program manager for Georgia EPD's Hazardous Sites Response Program.
"When it's in a drum it's not a problem, but it can become a problem if it leaks or is mixed," he said, adding that the site posed enough of a threat that EPD recently gave local emergency responders a tour of the area.
The company once accepted various hazardous wastes and recycled them into usable products or shipped the material to authorized disposal sites. The remaining inventory includes 20 to 30 drums of acids and bases, and about 100 drums of other material including waste oil and antifreeze.
The company's lab also contains hundreds of small containers of waste. Mr. Brown said former employees are working with EPD to identify and classify those materials for safe disposal.
Because Alternate Energy cannot pay for the cleanup, EPD is evaluating company records to identify generators of the waste. Those parties could later be asked to share in disposal costs.
"We've gotten contact information from some of the drums, and contacted those parties and notified them to pick up the materials," Mr. Brown said. Most companies are cooperating.
There could be as many as 1,200 responsible parties that would share in future cleanup costs under laws that hold generators of toxic waste responsible for the ultimate outcome of the material.
Once the remaining chemical inventory is removed, contractors will face a broader cleanup involving contaminated soil and groundwater, Mr. Brown said.
In previous decades, before stricter environmental laws were adopted, drums of toxic waste were stored on wooden pallets in unpaved lots. Over time, cancer-causing chemicals leaked into groundwater.
The contamination spread south across Gordon Highway, eventually turning up in residential wells - and prompting the company's previous owners to finance county water lines to affected areas.
Groundwater remediation efforts have been under way for several years, but a long-term cleanup remains necessary, Mr. Brown said, adding that EPD will be checking nearby neighborhoods to see whether anyone is still using well water.
In particular, residents along Fairview Avenue and Belmont Street across Rocky Creek from Alternate Energy will be checked to see whether any active private wells remain in use, he said.
Any residents of that area with questions should contact Mr. Brown at (404) 657-8600.
Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119, or firstname.lastname@example.org.