'Smoky vapor' at Hurlburt is nothing but steam, FDEP says

'Smoky vapor' at Hurlburt is nothing but steam, FDEP says

By Jim Thompson | 315-4445 | @Jimtnwfdn | jthompson@nwfdailynews.com

MARY ESTHER — Smoky vapor reported by motorists traveling adjacent to Hurlburt Field is nothing but steam, according to the Florid Department of Environmental Protection. The FDEP authorized the "thermal desorption" process being used at the base to remove pesticide residue from a residential construction site.

Hurlburt Field is in the process of building new on-base housing, under the management of private contractor Corvias Military Living. The work is requiring the destruction of some older homes, and in December 2014, workers drilling near the older housing first encountered chlordane. The chemical was used routinely during the 20th century as a termite insecticide, but the EPA banned its sale in 1987. Chlordane is a suspected human carcinogen.

Additional testing also found chlordane farther away from the older homes — but Hurlburt officials in April indicated that the “remaining pesticide levels, undisturbed, do not present immediate concerns for our families."

At construction areas, however, the process of treating soil contaminated with chlordane, which began in early November, will continue over the next few months. The process involves the use of a large piece of equipment adjacent to U.S. Highway 98 just outside Mary Esther.

According to Air Force officials, the remediation process consists of extracting the contaminated soil and heating it to remove the pesticide. The Hurlburt public affairs unit said the remediation process could send vapors across public roads near the airfield, depending on wind direction and strength.

When asked about the contents of the vapor, the public affairs unit responded only that “Corvias and the Air Force collaborated with the FDEP (Florida Department of Environmental Protection) to develop a soil management plan, following all state and federal regulations, and to maximize safety precautions.”

Calls to both Corvias and the Air Force Civil Engineering Command, which is working with the remediation effort, had not been returned at deadline for this story.

But after the FDEP was contacted by the Northwest Florida Daily News with questions about the vapor, the agency said it would contact the base and send staff out to inspect the site.

In a Thursday email, an FDEP spokeswoman said that in a Wednesday inspection, agency staff "confirmed the emissions from the exhaust stack are steam – not smoke. The facility appeared to be operating as approved by the department to adequately treat the soil and the resulting gas stream."

The spokeswoman also said the thermal desorption equipment is scheduled for evaluation "within the week" to "test the gas stream to verify that the process is providing adequate treatment."

Also according to the spokeswoman, a project manager is onsite daily to periodically check emissions from the thermal desorption process. Additionally, all piles of soil being treated are covered daily to prevent windblown emissions.

'No fugitive emissions were noted during the site visit," the email stated. "The process appears to have adequate treatment for particulates as no particulate issues were observed."

In April, Col. Thomas Palenske, commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, said the installation’s goal with regard to the residential construction project “is to protect the health and safety of our airmen and families, and to ensure construction activities do not impact installation and supporting communities’ access to safe soil and water. There is not an immediate threat to families currently living in these houses and we will ensure community members remain informed.”

Residents of Hurlburt Field's existing on-base housing have been issued a number of safety guidelines in connection with the chlordane remediation. They have been asked to stay clear of the construction site, and residents of older homes still in use have been advised not to dig up their yards to plant flowers or shrubbery. Those residents also have been advised to plant vegetable gardens in raised beds filled with soil from a source other than the residential yards.

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