Environmental Crisis in Brunswick: Superfund Sites and Industrial Fallout

We attended the 6th Annual Gullah Geechee Environmental and Energy Conference in Brunswick, Georgia. During our visit to this town, located between Jacksonville, Florida, and Savannah, Georgia, we were able to see the complex intersection of industrialism and environmental injustice. 

The Superfund Reality in Brunswick 

Glynn County, where Brunswick is located, is home to four Superfund sites, underscoring a history of environmental neglect. One site’s classification on the National Priorities List (NPL) underscores the urgency of its condition. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), better known as the Superfund law, guides the cleanup of these sites. Established in 1980 amidst a wave of environmental activism and legislation, this law aims to identify and remediate the nation’s most hazardous waste sites. Despite challenges in funding and implementation, recent legislative efforts have injected new resources into the Superfund program, aiming to address the backlog of cleanup projects and prevent further environmental degradation. 

Each site in Brunswick tells a story of industrial activities gone awry: 

  • Brunswick Wood Preserving: This site, now a flat field dotted with yellow PVC-pipe test wells, once thrived on the production of creosote-treated wood products. Today, it stands as a testament to the environmental cost of industrial negligence, contaminated with arsenic, copper, and other pollutants. Dubbed an “orphan site,” it has no current owner, complicating cleanup efforts. 
  • LCP Chemicals: Brunswick’s largest Superfund site was a place of oil refining and chemical production, that left behind a legacy of mercury and PCB contamination. This site’s proximity to the marshland complicates its cleanup, impacting local wildlife and raising concerns about seafood consumption. 
  • Hercules 009 Landfill: This smaller site, adjacent to a new housing development, highlights the challenges of legacy waste disposal practices. Used for dumping toxic chemicals, its contamination issues underscore the long-term environmental impacts of inadequate waste management practices. 
  • Terry Creek Dredge Spoils/Hercules Outfall: Representing over a century of industrial waste disposal, this site’s contamination with toxaphene, a toxic pesticide, illustrates the pervasive challenges of remediating sites where pollutants have integrated deeply into the local ecosystem. 
Source: EPA Superfund site boundaries (Map by Maggie Lee)

Community at Risk 

With a majority-minority population of 56% black, as well as low median household incomes, Brunswick’s demographics highlight a community at risk. The proximity of homes and schools to these toxic sites poses a direct threat to residents’ health, marking a clear case of environmental injustice. 

Industrial Legacy and Health Impacts 

For years, the area’s industry has left a toxic legacy, culminating in a disaster last April. A fire at the Pinova, Inc. plant caused significant damage, leading to the site’s permanent closure. The fire destroyed core production assets and required the shutdown of all operations, impacting over 200 employees. This event is a reminder of the ongoing dangers industries pose to the community. 

Superfund Sites Explored 

We were able to visit each of these Superfund sites with our guide, Rachel Thompson, who is the Executive Director of the Glynn Environmental Coalition (GEC). They actively educate and involve the community in addressing these concerns. From touring Superfund sites to offering online forums, GEC works to mitigate the impact of pollution.  

The Response 

GEC’s efforts, alongside federal investments like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, aim to remediate these sites. Yet, challenges persist, such as the “orphan” status of some properties, complicating cleanup efforts. 

Brunswick’s environmental challenges underscore the urgent need for action. The community’s exposure to toxic chemicals, compounded by the recent industrial fire, highlights the ongoing struggle for environmental justice.  

We must continue to push for accountability, remediation, and preventive measures to protect vulnerable communities from environmental harm. Join us in advocating for comprehensive environmental justice in Brunswick and beyond. 

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