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Elizabeth Bluemink

The Navy needs a new cleanup plan for a Superfund site at Pensacola Naval Air Station.

Likely within a year, the Navy will revise its cleanup of the 85- acre landfill, which has allowed iron to seep into nearby wetlands, and vinyl chloride, a carcinogen, to migrate north toward Bayou Grande in the groundwater.

The pollution does not pose an urgent health risk because the contamination is nowhere near the portion of the local aquifer used for drinking water, said EPA cleanup manager Gena Townsend. The air station’s water is supplied by Corry Station, three miles away. Navy tests show that the landfill’s chemical plume has migrated north at least 55 feet from Bayou Grande’s coastline, and also to the east, under the air station’s A.C. Read Golf Course.

The original plan called for allowing the pollution to naturally filter in the groundwater for 30 years, but the pollution levels have not dissipated as the plan predicted.

In 1998, the Navy and federal and state environmental regulators agreed that natural attenuation would reduce the pollution to safe levels in the groundwater by 2003 and eliminate it completely in 30 years.

“It just isn’t happening as quickly as we expected,” said Greg Campbell, an environmental engineer at the air station.

Navy contractors are expected to finish a list of new cleanup options withhe next two to three months.

Because the contamination remains at high levels, the Navy could face a more aggressive and more expensive cleanup, Campbell said. The original cleanup plan was expected to cost $1.9 million. That now may be enhanced with a pump-and-treat system or another cleanup technology, he said.

Although pollution levels are high, regulators do not know if they will harm the environment. The iron levels in the wetland exceed state regulatory standards, but harmful effects there have not been identified, Campbell said. The risk associated with the vinyl chloride pollution also is unclear. The pollutant causes several forms of cancer, but there is little likelihood that people will be exposed to it since it is not near a water supply, Townsend said.

Pensacola attorney Lisa Minshew, a member of the air station’s citizen environmental advisory board, said she was unaware that pollution from the landfill was migrating toward the bayou.

“I’ve been very concerned about the impact on water adjacent to the base,” she said. “As a board member, it’s something I will want to discuss.”

Minshew has another stake in the issue: She is spearheading a $25 million class action lawsuit against the Escambia County Utilities Authority over its role in supplying radium-tainted water from the local aquifer in Pensacola. A trial date has not been set.

Navy contractors sampled the bayou within the last two years and found that vinyl chloride has not reached the bayou, Campbell said.

As part of the revised cleanup, the Navy will install a new monitoring well closer to the bayou coastline to learn if the pollution has spread, Campbell said. The extent of the contamination in the wetlands is under investigation, Campbell said.

The decision to revise the landfill cleanup was triggered in February 2003, when the Navy’s contractor, Tetra Tech NUS Inc., reported that natural attenuation at the site was “not protective of human health and the environment.”

In its report to the Navy, based on an analysis of five years of data, Tetra Tech engineers reported that “contaminant concentrations have not decreased over time and vinyl chloride detected in groundwater samples adjacent to Bayou Grande may be flowing off facility.”

The Navy used the landfill to dump domestic and industrial waste for the Pensacola Bay area’s naval facilities from the early 1950s to 1976. In 1974, Navy officials discovered that landfill waste was seeping up into a pond at the golf course.

Want to Go? WHAT: Pensacola Naval Air Station’s citizen Restoration Advisory Board plans to meet to discuss the progress of the air station’s Superfund cleanup. WHEN: 5 p.m. Feb. 24. WHERE: Building 624, 190 Radford Blvd. at the air station. Pollution at Pensacola NAS

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