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EPA probe of former chemical plant extended

August 25, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN - Environmental Protection Agency scientists have extended their search for contaminants expelled from Central Chemical by following a groundwater trail to the northeast and southwest of the former Mitchell Avenue plant in Hagerstown.

Central Chemical was a pesticide and fertilizer mixing plant that closed in 1984, leaving pesticides and metals that were dumped in the soil and groundwater.

An investigation to determine what hazardous chemicals were expelled from the former plant, which is now a federal Superfund waste site, has turned up levels of pesticides DDT in the soil and BHC in the groundwater surrounding it, said Mitch Cron, EPA remedial project manager.

"We know that it has extended to some extent off the site," he said.

Since the plant, which covers about 20 acres, is fenced, it presents "no immediate threat" to people, he said. Central Chemical canceled all leases at the site in 2003 and the plant's buildings were demolished under EPA oversight in 2005, according to a federal report.

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"Contaminant concentrations on the site are high," Cron said. He said the EPA is concerned about health risks, such as cancer and nervous system problems, associated with high concentrated exposure to those chemicals.

In 2007, once the remedial investigation into contaminant levels is complete, the EPA will determine how to clean up the site, he said.

"It looks like excavation of contaminated soils is a big option," he said. Cron said it's possible a wall or cap will be built around or over the site.

Since 2003, 10 to 15 holes have been drilled for wells from 1,000 to 1,500 feet away from the site so scientists may test the groundwater for levels of the contaminants, Cron said.

The last hole to be drilled is on West Irvin Avenue, he said. Construction of the final wells should be finished by the end of September, he said.

"Based upon our evaluation, we've identified groundwater flow to the northeast and the southwest of the site," he said.

Although Hagerstown residents do not use groundwater for drinking water, Cron said there is a concern that the contaminants could flow into nearby creeks and ultimately into larger bodies of water, he said.

Scientists have not found "any contamination in local service water bodies," but they want to rule out further contamination as part of their investigation, he said.

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