Thursday, August 20, 2015
Another EPA disaster, this time in rural Georgia
Still reeling from a disaster it created at a Colorado gold mine, the EPA has so far avoided criticism for a similar toxic waste spill in Georgia.
In Greensboro, EPA-funded contractors grading a toxic 19th-century cotton mill site struck a water main, sending the deadly sediment into a nearby creek. Though that accident took place five months ago, the hazard continues as heavy storms — one hit the area Tuesday — wash more soil into the creek.
The sediment flows carry dangerous mercury, lead, arsenic and chromium downstream to the Oconee River — home to many federally and state protected species — and toward the tourist destination of Lake Oconee.
Lead in the soil is 20,000 times higher than federal levels established for drinking water, said microbiologist Dave Lewis, who was a top-level scientist during 31 years at the Environmental Protection Agency.
He became a whistleblower critical of EPA practices and now works for Focus for Health, a nonprofit that researches disease triggers.
“Clearly, the site is a major hazardous chemical waste dump, which contains many of the most dangerous chemical pollutants regulated by the EPA,” Lewis wrote in a 2014 affidavit for a court case filed by local residents that failed to prevent the EPA project: creating a low-income housing development.
The mill site contains 34 hazardous chemicals, 30 of which are on the EPA’s list of priority pollutants because of “high toxicity, persistence, lack of degradability, and harmful effects on living organisms,” Lewis wrote.
But while the nation is transfixed by the bright orange waterways in otherwise pristine Colorado wilderness, little attention has been paid to the unfolding Greensboro disaster.
The four-acre site features the abandoned Mary Leila Cotton Mill, which produced sheeting until the early 2000s. Looking like a ghostly fortress, the 135,000-square-foot building with turrets and a water tower was covered in lead-based paint that flaked off and covered the grounds along with ash produced by its coal-burning generators. High levels of cancer-causing chemicals, such as benzo(a)pyrene, are also buried there. And neighboring farmers dumped pesticides on the vacant grounds back when arsenic was used to kill bugs.
The Environmental Protection Agency has denied — but now admits — that it funded the cleanup and development project the triggered the catastrophe.
The EPA issued a grant around 2005 to turn the mill and surrounding grounds into a housing complex for the mentally ill, homeless and indigent. Contractors working with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GEPD) have started digging and tearing down the buildings — despite objections by the city of Greensboro and the absence of a plan to deal with the hazardous waste.