EPA looks at cleaning creek near Plymouth

Published 7:21 pm Saturday, August 18, 2007

By Staff
Public asks for agency to leave the water alone
Staff Writer
PLYMOUTH — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has plans to spend $9 million to clean up a portion of Welch Creek near Plymouth. At an EPA public hearing Thursday night, Washington County residents weighed in on the need for such an operation, most saying they thought it an unnecessary expense.
A mile and a half west of Plymouth, Welch Creek received wastewater discharge from the former Weyerhaeuser paper pulp mill, now owned by Domtar Corporation, between 1957 and 1988. EPA studies found that the midstream portion of the creek contained sediment with high levels of dioxin, a toxic byproduct of the mill’s bleaching process.
Bryant said dioxin was found in stream sediment, adjacent wetland soils and in predatory species such as carp, catfish, osprey and duck.
Bryant attributed the improvement to the mill having changed its bleaching process in 1992, which lessened the amount of dioxin in its wastewater discharge. Bryant said the EPA still recommends following fish-consumption advisories until it can sufficiently clean up the stream.
The EPA preferred alternative method of cleanup, called enhanced monitored natural recovery, includes placement of a thin layer of sand over portions of the stream bed to cover contaminated sediment. Domtar would be responsible for the $9.6 million cleanup with EPA oversight of construction and stream monitoring.
That plan is third in a list of 10 ranging from no action to an extensive dredging plan that would cost $27 million.
Members of the public who spoke were overwhelmingly opposed to the alternatives that involved dredging, which Bryant said were not good options because of the increased destructive potential and the possibility of further spreading contamination.
Terry Pratt said the stream concerns him as a commercial fisherman. In light of improved dioxin levels, he said leaving the stream alone is just what the EPA should do.
Bryant said that the mill no longer discharges wastewater into the creek and that Domtar was in compliance with its state and federal discharge permits.
Washington County resident Wade Rogers took a similar, hands-off stance on the issue.
The public hearing came on the heels of another report on the possible health effects of the paper mill. At Monday’s Plymouth Town Council meeting, Interim Town Manager Sam Styons mentioned a 2003 report that classified mill emissions as a potential public-health hazard.
Styons said after the hearing that the area is indebted to the jobs companies like Weyerhaeuser have brought to the town, but “we know we have a high incidence of cancer in and around Plymouth and we certainly want to find out why that is.”