WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday it plans to remove the Southern Maryland Wood Treating site from the Superfund list, saying cleanup is complete and there are no health or environmental threats remaining.
The 96-acre St. Mary’s County site, where creosote and pentachlorophenol once soaked the soil and groundwater, has been cleaned to residential standards and in November became the first Superfund site in the Mid-Atlantic to be considered ready for reuse.
“The mere fact that it has been cleaned and meets the merits of the EPA insofar as it doesn’t have to be on that list is good news,” said Dennis Canavan, director of St. Mary’s County land use and growth management-planning.
Canavan, whose office will work with any proposal to reuse the site, said the fact that the property near Hollywood, Md., has been deleted from the Superfund list can only help redevelopment.
“Certainly you don’t want any prohibitions, especially environmental prohibitions that would have qualified it for a Superfund site to continue,” he said.
The Southern Maryland Wood Treatment Corp. ran a wood-treatment plant on the site from 1965 to 1978, using chemicals to protect items like utility poles, railroad ties and wharf pilings.
But it abandoned the site in the early 1980s, leaving deteriorating tanks of creosote and PCP behind, along with processing equipment. The property was added to the Superfund list in 1986, making it eligible for federal cleanup funds.
EPA spokesman David Sternberg said the creosote was the most troubling element of the pollution since it was a carcinogen. High exposure to PCP is also hazardous and can cause a dangerous, sometimes lethal, increase in body temperature.
The original plan for onsite incineration of the contaminated soils and sediments was vetoed by community residents due to perceived health concerns and high estimated costs.
“We listened to what concerns the citizens had and went back to the drawing board,” Sternberg said. “The cleanup took longer than most, in part due to having to change the remedy.”
After years of restudying the project, the EPA presented a process called thermal desorption, which “bakes” contaminants to separate them from the soil.
Starting in 1998, the EPA excavated about 270,000 tons of contaminated sediments and soils from the site and adjacent stream. The thermal desorption process was completed in the fall of 2000, and all cleanup activities were finished in 2003.
A mix of wildflowers and grains were planted in the hopes of re-establishing the area as a wildlife habitat, and visitors have reported evidence that wildlife is returning to the site.
“The EPA is working with the state and the county and other stakeholders including the creditors, and we want to see the site returned to appropriate use that’s best for the site and the community,” Sternberg said.
He said the property is still owned by Southern Maryland Wood Treatment Corp., but the National Bank of Fredericksburg has a lien on the property.
No restrictions will be placed on future use of the property as long it remains up to EPA standards.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, whose district includes the site, congratulated the EPA for the cleanup.
“I am pleased that the community will no longer be at risk from this toxic site, and that it can be used again,” said Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville.
The agency posted notice Friday of its intention to delete the site and if no adverse comments are received by March 7, the site will be officially removed from the National Priorities List on April 5.
“It could wind up being a nature preserve or it could also be residential or commercial development,” Sternberg said.
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