Columbus residents graduate with skills to cleanup community


Andrew Hazzard



Representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday recognized 17 graduates from a job training program giving local residents the skills to clean-up the defunct Kerr-McGee plant in Columbus. 


EPA provided the two-week environmental Superfund Job Training Initiative program in conjunction with the ongoing cleanup at the Kerr-McGee Chemical Superfund Site. The graduation ceremony took place at the Genesis Dream Center.  


The SuperJTI program was offered to local residents near the Kerr-McGee Chemical Superfund Site to prepare participants for environmental jobs. A large number of local residents have expressed an interest in employment during the site cleanup, and the contractor has expressed a desire to invest in the local community as much as possible, according to the EPA. The graduates are prepared to work in positions with site contractors and off-site employers in the community. 


The students completed the 40-hour Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response training that is required to work on assessing and cleaning up contaminated sites. Graduates also earned CPR/ First Aid certification.  


SuperJTI is a job readiness program that provides training and employment opportunities for people living in communities affected by Superfund sites. Many of these areas are Environmental Justice communities - historically under-represented minority and low-income neighborhoods and areas burdened with significant environmental challenges. EPA's goal is to help these communities develop job opportunities that remain long after a Superfund site has been cleaned up. 


The Memphis Town neighborhood in Columbus became such a place in 2011, after the EPA inspected the Kerr-McGee plant that closed in 2003.  


The site is a former wood treatment facility spanning 90 acres that Kerr-McGee purchased in 1964. It had been in operation since 1928. The site was operated until 2003.  


Environmental testing agencies found creosote contamination in sediment samples taken from drainage ditches and residential property. Wood products were treated with the pesticide pentachlorphenol until 1976, while coal tar and creosote were used to treat wood products until the shutdown. The company used open ditches that were in 100-year-flood plains for years to transport surface water runoff from the plant into Luxapallila Creek, which spread toxic chemicals to neighboring residential areas through flooding, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.  


The Kerr-McGee plant in Columbus is part of a $5.15 billion dollar settlement from Tronox the company that acquired Kerr-McGee. Of that, $67 million for prospective environmental work will go to the environmental trust created to clean up the 14th Avenue North site. 


Memphis Town Community Action Group leader Steve Jamison told The Dispatch about 3,500 people in the area were affected by the after effects of the plant's activities and that 1 million gallons of toxic water was being pumped through the 14th Avenue ditch each month, extracting some 5,000 gallons of creosote a month. The EPA designated the area as a Superfund site in 2011 and added it to the National Priorities List of hazardous waste sites.  


The Tronox Tort Trust is receiving $618 million to pay claims to those who have experienced these affects at all affected sites in the country. A hotline (800-753-2480) and email address ([email protected]) have been set up to guide those affected on how their claims can be processed.




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