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    Jointly reported by WebMD and Georgia Health News

    A History of Pollution

    Lexi’s house sits on the corner of Hamilton and Brunel streets in Waycross, a town of about 15,000 people. Drive east on Hamilton, and within a block, you’ll see rusty pipes sticking up out of the ground like straws. These are monitoring wells, and they are planted in empty fields that border Hamilton Street behind a chain-link fence.

    Railroad company CSX Transportation owns the fields -- part of the sprawling Rice Yard complex in the center of town -- and the 755 acres beyond them.

    The wells have been there since the early 1990s to monitor an enormous spill, or plume, of toxic chemicals that has been moving underground for decades.

    State environmental inspectors first ordered the site to be cleaned up in 1985, when they found a stew of hazardous chemicals that were being handled carelessly. Paint strippers were poured into shallow pits. Solvents were poured down floor drains.

    The state Environmental Protection Division (EPD) ordered the railroad to find out exactly how much hazardous waste it was generating and where it was going. They fined Seaboard System Railroad, then the owner, $30,500.

    When the state returned for a follow-up inspection a few months later, they caught workers dumping toxic waste onto the ground in an area of the property that sits near Lexi’s neighborhood. 

    A few months later, the company received a second fine of $50,000 when inspectors found workers dumping toxic waste onto the ground near Lexi’s neighborhood. Inspectors who tested the waste found high levels of volatile organic compounds including cancer causing trichloroethylene (TCE), and methylene chloride, a paint stripper that is thought to cause cancer.

    The state issued a second fine to the railroad for $50,000, and required it to establish plans to monitor the pollution and clean it up.

    Although the company has pumped and treated more than a half-billion gallons of water from the ground since 1993, recent tests from the monitoring wells continue to show that significant levels of contamination remain underground. Part of the issue may be that CSX is using a technique that the EPA cautions doesn’t work well to clean up these types of chemicals. As recently as last year, CSX got permission from the state to add a third well to help treat the toxic water.