Hercules plant up for contamination testing

Hattiesburg, MS - (WDAM) News that the Hercules plant in Hattiesburg is under investigation by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality is not a surprise to some. Elma Dennis has lived in Vickers Circle for six years and said,  "This is a very contaminated piece of soil out here."

The plant is currently regulated by MDEQ, but the regulations they follow don't cover everything. For instance, after testing groundwater at the facility, the research found the soil contaminated with chemicals. Mrs. Dennis said she believes her soil is contaminated, and it's causing negative effects not only on her garden, but on her health. She said, "It will cause your head to itch, your skin, on my legs, the itching will get so severe and it will last for some time."

Mrs. Dennis says that after talking with neighbors who had the same opinions, she went to the housing authority. But nothing's been done about it, yet. The MDEQ released information regarding upcoming testing of the plant and the surrounding area for something called VOC's or Volatile Organic Compounds, some of which may cause cancer in humans.

Phase I will test the site for human exposure, while Phase II of testing will assess the extent of the contamination.

The upcoming tests will go further in depth than previous studies on soil, sludge, surface water, sediment, and groundwater on the site. Those studies indicated that hazardous chemicals, primarily VOC's like benzene, chlorobenzene, carbon tetrachloride, and methylene chloride are present. Dennis thinks this is killing her garden.

"It smelled like something was dead, there. I bought soil and put it here to try to have a flower garden. It has now, I guess, killed the usefulness of the soil, and it won't even let the flowers grow as they normally do."

The phases of testing are due in the next couple months, and people living near the plant will be asked to sign an Access Agreement, granting researchers permission to study in their neighborhoods. But for now, Mrs. Dennis thinks the testing and possible treatment is too little, too late.

She said, "I don't even think they can fix it now, it's too late for that."

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