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EPA Environmental News

Contact: Patrick Gaughan (304) 234-0238

October 9, 1997-9815


PHILADELPHIA --The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the construction of monitoring wells at the Olin Superfund site near Saltville, Va. The wells will tell EPA scientists if mercury has contaminated the ground water running beneath the site.

The site, a former chlorine plant located in Smyth County on the North Fork of the Holston River, is heavily contaminated with mercury. Sediments, contaminated with mercury were dredged from the bottom of the river and placed in containment on land. It is suspected that mercury may be leaching back into the soil. The monitoring wells will reveal if mercury has entered the ground water.

The Olin Superfund site was first added to the EPA's National Priorities List of the worst hazardous waste sites in the country in 1982, after an initial investigation revealed the presence of mercury in the soil and river sediment.

Field work on construction of the monitoring wells will begin in mid-October and be completed, weather permitting, by the end of November. After the wells have been installed on the old chlorine plant area, several rounds of ground water samples will be collected over a year and a half and analyzed for contaminants.

The primary objective of the sampling is to see what impact the mercury may have on the North Fork of the Holston River which remains under a fish consumption advisory. Once this information has been gathered, EPA will decide whether a long- term remedy is required at the former chlorine plant location, and if so, what the remedy will be.

As with the remedy decision for waste ponds on the site, any potential remedy that EPA deems necessary will be documented and made available for public comment prior to making final decisions. Olin, under EPA oversight, is continuing the investigation process into the river system.

From 1895 to 1972, the Saltville Waste Disposal Site was occupied by Olin Corporation and predecessors, Mathieson Chemical Corporation and Mathieson Alkali Works. Olin estimated that 100 pounds of mercury a day were lost from 1951 to 1970 into the ground and the river. Wastes from the plant were pumped into large settling basins or waste ponds.

In 1970, Olin modified its operation to cut mercury losses to a quarter pound per day. In 1970 the Virginia State Water Control Board adopted a new standard for dissolved solids which Olin indicated they could not meet. Olin shut down the Saltville operations in 1972. The chlorine plant was demolished in 1973 and buried between waste ponds.

The Commonwealth of Virginia and Olin signed an agreement requiring that Olin divert a 1,300-foot section of the North Fork of the Holston River and dredge 1,000 feet of the exposed river bed. These dredged sediments were deposited onto the former chlorine plant site, covered with a cap, and fenced off.

In 1988, EPA and Olin signed an agreement whereby Olin constructed a treatment plant, performed surface water management controls, and continued to conduct detailed studies of the overall site including adjacent and downstream sections of the North Fork of the Holston.

Olin, with EPA oversight, has completed the detailed study for the waste ponds. Long-term remedies for the ponds have been selected by EPA and documented in a Record of Decision that was signed in September of 1995. Preliminary negotiations are underway between EPA and Olin which will lead to the design of a remedy for the waste ponds.

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