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Contamination effects studied at chemical site

March 31, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Scientists have begun mapping out a study area on the old Central Chemical site in Hagerstown's West End to determine the extent to which the 19-acre site is contaminated with pesticides and fertilizers, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official said Tuesday.

The work is part of an effort to determine the environmental problems that resulted from the chemical plant's operation from the 1930s until the mid-1980s. The land along Mitchell Avenue was designated a Superfund site in 1997.

Surveyors earlier this month began marking off 50-by-50-foot plots, each of which will yield one or more soil samples, said Eric Newman, EPA remedial project manager. Samples will be taken from more than 200 places, some at multiple depths, Newman said.

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Workers are expected this week to begin drilling six more wells on the site to test groundwater. There are six wells on the site from the last testing period one year ago, Newman said.

The samples will be evaluated at private laboratories and a report will be issued to the EPA this fall, Newman said. The study is the second part of the site investigation process that began last year.

The first set of tests, in which 80 samples were tested for nearly 190 contaminants, was completed last May, Newman said.

The current phase will involve taking more samples but looking for a narrower list of contaminants, Newman said.

Although scientists must complete the second part of the study before the government determines the site will have to be cleaned, Newman said it is almost certain that will happen.

"Based on what we've seen in the Phase I (study), there's definitely going to be a cleanup," Newman said. He said it appears the contamination is limited to the site.

Newman said the area of particular concern is a "disposal lagoon" that covers about one or two acres. Plant workers dumped chemicals there and covered them with dirt, he said.

Newman said the soil below the surface is discolored, and some of it isn't soil, but "almost pure (chemical) product." He said the waste material in the area is "far in excess of what would be required to trigger" a cleanup.

Testing probably won't begin until May, when the report from last year's testing is expected to be released, Newman said.

Newman said the testing is being performed by contractors for a group of 14 companies - including Central Chemical Corp. - that bear partial responsibility for the cleanup, as well as an EPA contractor.

At the time Central Chemical was named a Superfund site, the EPA said contaminants there included arsenic, lead, mercury, benzene and DDT.

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