Fayette Commission asked for help in keeping onion-odor plant shut

A local resident wants the Fayette County Commission to help ensure that a controversial chemical waste treatment plant just across the Fayette-Fulton County line remains mothballed.

In June 2006, nearly 800 residents of north and central Fayette County and south Fulton County were sickened by what they insisted were chemical releases from the Philip Services Corp. (PSC) waste treatment plant on Ga. Highway 92 near Fairburn.

In December, PSC will once again be able to apply for a permit to discharge pre-treated liquid into the Fulton County sewer system, and Connie Biemiller Thomas is hoping the Fayette commissioners will help lobby their Fulton counterparts to prevent PSC from restarting its operations there.

More than 770 residents told authorities they began exhibiting symptoms such as prolonged nausea, vomiting, headaches and a variety of respiratory problems including first-time diagnoses of asthma and pleurisy. The symptoms came after the residents were exposed to what was called a “strong onion-like odor” that was later identified as MOCAP wash water, a combination of the organophosphate ethoprop and a chemical odorant propyl mercaptan.

Thomas said the site is still designated as a Superfund site for future chemical cleanup, so she’s not even sure if PSC can technically reapply for the sewer discharge permit.

There has been no indication yet that PSC will apply for that permit, but given that the company retained the property and essentially is parking trucks there for now, she suspects they just might want to restart their full operations on the site.

The plant at one time was processing millions of gallons a day, Thomas said. It’s in the hope of being proactive that Fayette and south Fulton residents can take action to keep any future problems at bay, she said.

Thomas herself was personally affected by the chemical exposure, as were a number of residents living in a 40 square-mile area around the plant.

“When I was waking up vomiting in the morning because I was breathing it in all night, I said, ‘there’s something wrong,’” Thomas said.

PSC ultimately settled a lawsuit filed against it regarding the chemical exposures, agreeing in 2008 to pay $4 million to more than 2,200 households that were in a three-mile radius of the plant.

The company also agreed in December 2006 to physically cap its connection to the Fulton County sewer system and to not reapply for such a permit for six years. The company was also required to remove contaminated soil from the site and replace it with clean soil.

Thomas will make a presentation to the commission at its regular meeting Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the county’s Stonewall government complex in downtown Fayetteville.