Miss. Environmental Crews to Finish Creosote Cleanup in Hattiesburg

June 6, 2007

Hattiesburg’s Gulf States Creosote Plant shut its doors nearly 50 years ago, but the clean up of creosote continues.

Environmental activists and property owners are far from satisfied with the project, said Sherri Jones, organizer of the Forrest County Environmental Support Team.

“Our position is that we need someone on the federal level to come in and look at the work that has been done,” Jones said. “We’re not fixing to accept MDEQ’s recommendation and the people are not satisfied that this is the last stop.”

Last week, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality began what it hopes will be the last major cleanup of creosote contamination at the former plant site.

MDEQ representatives Tony Russell and Gloria Tatum said the chemical company Tronox, formerly Kerr-McGee Chemical Corp., ironed out an agreement with Norfolk Southern Railroad to clean a ditch that runs about 100 yards along the northwest side of the railroad tracks.

MDEQ hopes the work can be completed in two to three weeks.

Gulf States operated the plant from the 1930s until about 1960, when it was acquired by Union Camp. Kerr-McGee ultimately acquired control of the plant, which sits on about 20 acres in southwestern Hattiesburg.

Creosote, a toxic chemical, was found in the ground at the site after the company went out of business in the 1960s.

Sometime prior to 1960, the creosote seeped into the ground of an old industrial park in the area, which then drained, contaminating several blocks near the plant, environmental agencies said.

“There is contamination beneath some of the buildings, but it’s not gross contamination like you see here,” Russell said of the site. “But they can’t dig on any area without notifying us beforehand.”

Russell said MDEQ knew the creosote had been at the site for some time but had to work out issues with the railroad.

“Once we get this out, it will be the last commercial property cleaned up,” Russell said.

Jones said the issue is not just the creosote but also the other chemicals.

“You don’t have to find creosote; you have 16 different chemicals in the creosote. So the physical part can be sitting here but the chemicals are in the water,” said Jones.

Russell said if residents have health issues related to the creosote, they need to notify the Department of Health.

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