David Baker went before the Anniston City Council in February hoping its members would be willing to put a fence around a section of Snow Creek.
He said the section of creek that concerns him, just south of Alabama 202, is a play site for children around the Glen Addie neighborhood, even though it’s highly contaminated by PCBs.
“This is a health risk for our children,” said Baker, who for years has organized residents affected by Monsanto pollution.
Baker's concern comes as federal officials are planning the latest step in cleaning up the PCB contamination left by the Monsanto company's decades of production of the compound at a plant just upstream from where Baker says the children play. But that cleanup is likely still years away, and neither the city government, the company nor federal officials have shown any sign of moving to bar access to the creek.
Environmental Protection Agency officials have said the priority of the agency is to remove contaminated soil from areas like the spot on Snow Creek.
The EPA traditionally gives the highest priority to residential areas that are contaminated, because of increased levels of exposure compared to non-residential areas like the creek.
Reached Wednesday by email, a spokesman for the EPA wrote that “there is no unacceptable health risk to children who make contact with PCBs in sediment and surface water because they don’t have the same exposure frequency, duration, and ingestion rate with sediment as they have with residential soil.”
But the spokesman, James Pinkney, also wrote that the EPA doesn’t disagree that children living closer to the creek would have greater exposure to contaminants than the EPA has estimated.
EPA officials have agreed to make the removal of soil near Snow Creek a priority in upcoming cleanup efforts. But that cleanup plan must be approved by stakeholders involved in the cleanup and then later by courts. It could be two to three years before the sediment at the creek is targeted for cleanup, according to Pinkney.
Baker said he’s contacted Eastman Chemical about paying for a fence. Eastman owns Solutia, the company now in charge of PCB contamination from the former Monsanto plant. According to Baker, the company said the fence would be under the purview of the city of Anniston.
A spokesman for Eastman said it's cooperating with the the EPA under the terms of a 2003 settlement agreement that dictates the cleanup process. The spokesman wrote that the EPA has not yet asked Eastman to perform any of the latest batch of cleanup work.
Asked whether Eastman had been contacted by anyone about building a fence at the site, spokeswoman Gayle Macolly Harris said “we have not been approached by EPA to install a fence in that area.”
Snow Creek is in the Anniston City Council ward represented by Ben Little. Little said he’s waiting until Anniston’s new city manager comes on board before looking into the possibility of the fence. The city manager, Jay Johnson, is expected to start work March 12.
Little said he feels that the company responsible for the contamination should pay for the fence.
“They have a duty and responsibility to protect the public from that hazard,” he said.
Baker said there’s no reason why getting the fence should be such a long ordeal.
Meanwhile, he said, “the children are still there.”