EPA discusses REEF progress with citizens
by Emily Adams
EPA federal on-scene coordinator Jason Booth, right, discusses REEF cleanup with Sylacauga residents Leigh Cox and Tom Bivin during an availability session Wednesday.
SYLACAUGA – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hosted two public availability sessions Wednesday at J. Craig Smith Community Center, during which 21 citizens stopped by to get answers to their questions about cleanup at the REEF superfund site in Sylacauga.

EPA federal on-scene coordinator Jason Booth was on hand, as well as Paul Rogers of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, Rich Nickle of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and EPA Region 4 community involvement coordinator Kerisa Coleman.

“We felt the availability sessions were very helpful today,” Coleman said. “A lot of these issues are better addressed in a one-on-one scenario, and it also was meant to accommodate the work schedules of some people who may not have been able to make it to one of our previous community meetings.”

Coleman said the most common concerns of citizens were when the noxious odor produced by waste at REEF will go away, when cleanup will be complete and what will happen to the Twin Street facility once EPA is gone.

While none of those questions have definite answers at this point, Booth was happy to share that EPA projects cleanup to be complete within about 10 weeks.

After months of testing and development, an effective water treatment system has been set up onsite and EPA will tentatively begin discharging treated water into Shirtee Creek today. Booth estimates about 15 to 18 million gallons of untreated wastewater were left onsite, and 1.3 million of that has already been discharged onto a grassy field on the property.

To test its treatment system, EPA ran toxicity tests on the treated water at 1, 2, 5, 7 and 10 percent dilution to determine its effect on living organisms in the water, particularly minnows and sand fleas.

“All the way up to 7 percent, both of those species had 100 percent survival,” he said. “At 10 percent it dropped to 90 percent survival, so to be conservative we’ll go with 7 percent. We will continue to do long-term testing to see if it’s affecting the reproductive systems of these species.”

Once discharge begins, the goal is to release 250,000 gallons a day into the creek, plus an additional 500,000 onto the field.

EPA began cleanup of the former industrial waste treatment facility in October. The now-bankrupt REEF served mostly auto and oil industries in the area from around 2007 to 2010. It ceased operations after the Sylacauga Utilities Board refused to accept any more of its discharges due to permit violations that were linked to materials from REEF.

Coleman said site tours of REEF are being offered, and three citizens signed up for a tour during Wednesday’s events. Any citizen interested in scheduling a tour should contact Coleman at coleman.kerisa@epa.gov.

© 2013