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Investigators testing neighborhoods for pollutants

HATTIESBURG — State and federal agencies are testing neighborhoods around a former chemical plant in Hattiesburg for possible pollution.

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, Environmental Protection Agency and Ashland Inc., Hercules’ parent company, have drilled test wells within a half-mile of the plant, the Hattiesburg American reported.

The wells are drilled in the path that water flows underground, MDEQ remediation employee Willie McKercher said. He said information gathered will be used to clean up contamination.

Ten residents and a church sued Hercules and Ashland in October, alleging that tests ordered in 2011 found chemicals in the groundwater next to at least two homes.

The companies’ response to the federal lawsuit denies many of the plaintiffs’ claims but acknowledges many of the test results confirming contamination in soil, air and water near the plant.

The plant closed in 2009, the year after Ashland bought it. It made products including resins, synthetic rubber and pesticide.

The site itself also will be tested for whether soil pollution is a risk to the environment or people.

In December, crews began moving sludge that contains benzene and hydrogen sulfide from the plant’s impoundment basin — a cleanup priority, said Rick Sumrall, with MDEQ’s Compliance Enforcement Division.

Drying the sludge so it can be moved to a sanitary landfill has proven difficult, and the contractor hired for that part of the job is testing it to see just how to proceed, said Tim Hassett, a Hercules representative.

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