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EPA recommends lifting restrictions related to chemical release

Liberty County Emergency Management Agency Director Larry Logan informed the Courier Saturday that EPA officials in Atlanta recommended that restrictions related to the SNF Chemtall chemical release into Riceboro Creek be lifted.

The Liberty County Department of Health had issued a warning last Tuesday advising the public to avoid swimming, wading or fishing  in the water at the Riceboro dock,  Riceboro fishing dock or the Baptismal pool due to the chemical release.

Benjamin Franco, the federal on scene coordinator with the Environmental Protection Agency’s emergency response, removal and prevention branch, said preliminary test results showed that the methyl chloride released into Riceboro Creek by SNF Chemtall May 14 was below the reporting, or risk, limit.

“The reporting limit for chloromethane in these lab results are all below 10 ug/L, which is below the residential 563 ug/L RML for long term tap water use,” Franco said. “In other words, EPA results are below levels that would affect the health of anyone being exposed to these surface waters. Based on these results, I would recommend lifting any public use restrictions that were put in place by Liberty County. I spoke with (the Georgia Environmental Protection Division) and they concur with this decision and then informed Larry Logan with Liberty County EMA by phone. We will have final validated results on Monday.”

According to Logan, their office along with EPA representatives looked into the matter after being notified by SNF Chemtall about the release.

Chris Gannon, SNF Chemtall spokesperson, told the Courier Friday that the company alerted authorities after their routine tests of the creek showed a spike in methyl chloride in the water.

Gannon explained that methyl chloride is a chemical byproduct of SNF’s manufacturing process, which they burn in the incinerators. He said it is a gas that is similar to propane and is flammable. Once the conversion and cleaning process is complete, the company discharges the treated water into the creek, which they are permitted to do.

“We must take samples twice a month to outside labs for testing,” Gannon said. “For internal purposes, we just historically have taken samples of the water and checked it in our own lab for any methyl chloride. We take samples before it gets to the creek.”

The company is also looking at its equipment and test procedures, he said.

“We don’t have any conclusions on any of that yet.”

Gannon said that to his knowledge, this was the first instance of a chemical release by SNF into Riceboro Creek.

“You want to be as careful as possible because people use the creek,” he said. The creek forms the northern boundary of the plant. “We have a responsibility to be cautious and not cause any due impacts to it."

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