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Mercury and PCBs from Linden Chemicals and Plastics (LCP)

Library: Reports: ATSDR

Mercury and PCBs from LCP Site Contaminate Waterways: Residents Warned Not to Eat Fish

excerpted from Hazard Substances and Public Health [ATSDR] Volume 5, Number 2, Spring 1995

One of the South's most hazardous waste sites, Linden Chemicals and Plastics (LCP), lies just west of the small town of Brunswick, Georgia, a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official declared after finding high levels of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and lead in soil and water.

"This is certainly one of the worst sites we have here in the Southeast, in terms of mercury and PCB contamination," said Paul Peronard, an EPA on-site coordinator. Ranking the site a 9.5 on a pollution scale of 1 to 10, he added: "I've never seen anything this bad."

Thousands of pounds of mercury and PCBs from the LCP site have contaminated the tidal marshlands around the 550-acre site. Other contaminants of concern are lead, barium, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Because the marshes drain into the Turtle River and Purvis Creek, health officials have warned the area's 3,259 residents not to consume fish or shellfish caught there.

The site has been the location of several industrial operations since 1919, when Atlantic Refining Company (now ARCO) operated an oil refinery there. Waste from the refinery was treated, stored, and disposed from 1920 to 1937. From 1937 to 1950, the Georgia Power Company bought parts of the site and operated an oil-fired power plant.

In 1941, Dixie Paints and Varnish Co. operated a paint manufacturing facility on part of the site. In 1955, Allied Chemical, a division of Hanlin Group Inc., purchased the site except for 2.9 acres of the Georgia Power property and manufactured chlorine, sodium hydroxide, and muriatic acid until 1979. The Hanlin Group, through its wholly owned subsidiary, LCP Chemicals- Georgia Inc., purchased the site and maintained operations until 1994.

Officials have found mercury concentrations as high as 12,500 parts per million (ppm) and PCBs as high as 3,600 ppm in drainage canals. Pockets of pure elemental mercury have also been found on the site. The EPA's recommended maximum safe level for mercury is 2 ppm; at 20 ppm, mercury is highly toxic, and long-term exposure can cause adverse health effects to the brain, kidneys, and developing fetuses. The maximum safe level for PCBs is .0005 ppm; at 25 ppm, PCBs are considered unsafe for human contact. Studies suggest that PCBs are carcinogens that cause acne-like rashes and may cause liver cancer and reproductive health effects. EPA officials fear that more than 17,000 pounds of PCBs and 200,000 pounds of mercury may have seeped into marshes and other areas around the site. It is estimated that the containment costs of the site will be between $20 and $50 million during the first 2 years of cleanup.

EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry are working with state officials and local physicians to identify public health problems that may be associated with the LCP site contamination.

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