“Some of the contamination is leaching into the groundwater,” said Jon Bornholm, EPA remedial project manager for the Superfund site. Superfund sites are abandoned or uncontrolled areas housing hazardous waste and are listed on the National Priorities List to await a remediation plan and funding to carry it out.
“The contaminants we’re seeing are creosote related. In order for us to walk away from the site, we have to make sure those levels are protected.”
The current contamination levels aren’t dangerous, per say, Bornholm said. The EPA’s monitoring shows that while the chemicals are in the groundwater, they aren’t migrating to neighboring properties or waterways.
As part of its deed, Haywood Vocational Opportunities, which now occupies the site, can’t use the groundwater for any purpose. That means it has to use city water for all its needs and must discharge all its wastewater into the city sewer line. In fact, the entire area is zoned such that private wells are not allowed — and incidentally, the creation of such wells would be the only way that the current contamination levels would become problematic, Bornholm said.
“The only risks associated with the site is if the site becomes a residential property and people stick wells in the ground,” Bornholm said. “Otherwise, there’s no risk really associated with that site.”
But no Superfund site is done until it’s back to nearly pre-contamination conditions. That’s why the EPA’s newest remediation plan calls for about $1.3 million worth of cleanup and monitoring.
“The good thing about this site is the work was done 15 years ago and a good job was done and the EPA has done a good job of monitoring,” said Waynesville Town Manager Marcy Onieal.
The plan calls for injecting some kind of oxidizing chemical — likely hydrogen peroxide — into the groundwater via injection wells spread 10 to 15 feet apart. The hydrogen peroxide would react naturally with the carbon in the contaminants, turning it into harmless water and carbon dioxide molecules. It would likely take two or three injections spread nine to 12 months apart to get the job done, Bornholm said.
“The trick is getting the contact of the oxidant with the contaminant,” Bornholm said. If we can accomplish that, this will be a successful solution of the residuals.”
Once the oxidation is complete, the EPA would finish the job by introducing microorganisms to eat any contaminants left over, metabolizing them into harmless compounds.
George Marshall, president of HVO, is all for this plan and doesn’t expect the remediation work to affect the company’s operations. He also said he’s had a good relationship with the EPA and doesn’t feel any threat from the current situation.
“It will be minimally disruptive, only bringing in a truck or two, and really won’t disrupt our operations here,” he said, “and secondly it’s dealing with the groundwater and not anything that would be airborne or something you’d come in contact with. Everyone in this area is on municipal water.”
Of course, the actual work could still be a long way off. Right now the EPA’s taking public comment on its remediation plan, but getting funding to actually carry it out is a whole other ball game.
“The branch officers from all 10 [EPA] regions get together, and they prioritize the list of sites and basically the prioritization is based on risk,” Bornholm said. “It’s going to fall low on that list.”
It could be years before funding is approved to finish cleaning up the Benfield Industries site. But funding could also come along more quickly if EPA’s headquarters decides it’s important to be able to say they’ve finished a project.
“That’s how Barber’s Orchard [in Waynesville] got funded,” Bornholm said. “Headquarters needed a bean.”
The Benfield story
1976: Benfield Industries Inc. begins operations, purchasing chemicals in bulk to package for resale.
1982: Fire destroys the facility.
1989: The site is placed on the National Priorities List as a Superfund site.
1995: A remediation plan is finalized.
1997: Cleanup begins. About 23,000 cubic yards of soil are treated and disposed offsite, while another 4,000 cubic yards determined not to be at risk for leaching contaminants are buried onsite.
2001: A groundwater extraction system is installed to pump groundwater from the site for treatment in Waynesville’s sewer system. Cleanup concludes and Haywood Vocational Opportunities purchases the property.
2007:The groundwater extraction system is shut down after evaluation finds it is no longer effective.
2012: Soil sampling concludes that contaminants persist in the soil but are not migrating offsite.
2015: A proposed remediation plan is released.
Source: Environmental Protection Agency presentation