Officials from the City of Hattiesburg and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will give the public a chance to offer opinions and other comments regarding the Hercules site before deciding whether to place the former plant on the Superfund National Priorities List, which documents sites of national priority among the known releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants throughout the United States and its territories.
A community meeting on the matter will be held at 6 p.m. May 19 at the C.E. Roy Community Center, 300 East 5th Street in Hattiesburg.
“I think the city’s priority at this stage is for the residents to understand the options for (the Hercules) site,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “We requested the comment period be extended so we could have this meeting, and on May 19 we want our residents to ask questions of the EPA and be educated about the process, so they can give an opinion on this commentary.”
The NPL is intended primarily to guide the EPA in determining which sites warrant further investigation.
“Typically, a superfund program gives you three options that need long-term cleanup,” Barker said. “(First off), they can list them on the National Priorities List.
“Secondly, you can address the site using other cleanup options like federal or state programs. Or there’s also a superfund alternative approach.”
After a site is proposed for the NPL, the EPA opens a comment period for the public to provide feedback; the deadline for the public comment period is June 16. The EPA will consider all public comments before making a final decision and moving on to the next steps of the NPL process.
“We’re all learning this process together right now,” Barker said. “I think ultimately, the goal for this land – for this site – to be put back into productive use, where residents and people potentially using the land feel safe doing so.
“I think that’s everyone’s goal for this site.”
In addition to the community meeting, the public is invited to submit comments until June 16 online at www.regulations.gov. All comments must include the docket number EPA-HQ-OLEM-2022-0191.
EPA officials announced on March 17 that the agency added 12 sites and was proposing to add another five, including the Hercules site, to the NPL where releases of contamination pose significant human health and environmental risks.
“Protecting overburdened communities from the toxic effects of Superfund sites is one of EPA’s highest priorities,” said EPA Region 4 Administrator Daniel Blackman. “By proposing sites such as Hercules Inc. to the Superfund NPL, we are making good on our commitment to protect the people we serve and support local community revitalization by allowing land to be safely redeveloped for productive use.”
The Hercules site off West 7th Street was built shortly after World War I and started out with a small workforce before expanding to one of the state's largest employers over the next 50 years. In its heyday, the company produced more than 250 chemical products.
But after about 60 years in business, production at the plant began to slow down because of the sluggish economy and decreased efficiency. Employment continued to steadily drop until operations finally ceased in 2009.
In early 2011, investigations uncovered several harmful contaminants that were released into the environment after the facility closed.
In May 2011, the EPA issued an order to Hercules, requiring the company to conduct on- and off-site monitoring, testing and reporting to determine the nature and extent of any environmental contamination at and from the Hattiesburg facility.
In December 2012, sludge cleanup began at the impoundment basin.
In 2013, the City of Hattiesburg sued Hercules and Ashland, alleging groundwater contamination from the closed factory may have leached into the city's water supply. The suit also alleged Hercules improperly disposed of harmful chemicals in the facility for decades.
In 2016, it was announced that the City of Hattiesburg would receive $3 million in a settlement regarding that issue. The settlement involved only the Hercules property and not outside residences that may have individual lawsuits pending.