MIKE KELLER, SUNHERALD.COM, AUGUST 10, 2006
GULFPORT – A new area contaminated with dioxin has been found just west of Canal Road by officials involved in the Seabee Base Agent Orange cleanup.
The area, running parallel to Canal Road, became contaminated after workers dredged the canal of contaminated soil that came off the Seabee base and dumped it in the undeveloped woods next to the waterway, said Bob Fisher, a Tetra Tech employee who is in charge of sampling for the cleanup project.
The dredging was routine maintenance done without knowledge of the contaminated soil.
“This area is zoned residential and these piles need to be excavated and removed,” Fisher said. “It needs to happen.”
Fisher estimated thousands of cubic yards of soil would need to be removed. He said the average dioxin readings on the piles were 15 parts per thousand; the state’s residential-area level triggering cleanup is 4.26 parts per thousand.
One sample, taken after Katrina, showed dioxin concentration more than five times higher than the state-mandated action level.
Dioxin contamination came from 850,000 gallons of Agent Orange that had been stored on the base between 1968 and 1976. Agent Orange was the military code name for one of a powerful group of herbicides used during the Vietnam War.
The initial dioxin-cleanup project, at the northeast corner of Canal Road and 28th Street, is six weeks away from completion.
The project manager for ECC, the company removing 100,000 tons of contaminated soil and locking it in six feet of concrete on the Seabee base, said a third of the final concrete cap had already been poured.
“It’s a good effort,” said Dr. Joseph Mitchell, a resident and member of the board advising the cleanup. “My concern is what this does to people when it gets in their system. You know it does some damage and they will probably never get it all, but the more they can remove, the better for the future.”
Past and current residents at the meeting, meanwhile, implored the government to step up health screening for those unknowingly exposed to cancer-causing dioxin for 20 years.
Betty Hope, who lived north of the base the entire time it was used for Agent Orange storage, said she knew many neighbors who died of unexplained cancers. Both she and her mother had breast cancer. She said dioxin was found on her family land.
“I was tested and I don’t have the gene for breast cancer,” Hope said. “If people knew they were exposed to it, maybe they’d go get tested. There’s too many people I know who have gotten cancer.”
Hope’s sister, Jeanne St. Amant, who now lives in Kiln, said people who lived in the neighborhood died of brain cancers and tumors and eye cancer.
“So many girls 13 and 14 years old had cysts on their ovaries. We had five cases in our little area,” St. Amant said.