Environmental Agents: No Health Hazard from Dock Fire

A dock fire along the Ogeechee River in Bryan County is getting a lot of attention from environmentalists. The dock caught on fire yesterday on a piece of land that's under construction. It's just off Georgia State Route 144, about five miles east of I-95.

The Environmental Protection Division says the fire did violate many regulations. The question many people who live in the area are asking is, was the fire a health hazard?

It's a beautiful view from Angie Foss' dock along the Ogeechee River. But not yesterday, when the old barge dock on the adjoining property was burning.

The dock was covered with creosote, a wood preservative. It sent thick black smoke into the air and debris into the water.

"To someone who doesn't live in this area, it may not be serious but to me, I live next door," Foss said. "I've lived on the river all my life, we take it very serious."

She called county and state environmentalists. They were on the scene again today. They cleaned up the mess, and when they tested the air, they found nothing dangerous.

"Creosote dissipates with ultraviolet rays from the sun as well as the air," said Jim Anderson with Bryan County Emergency Services. "You'd have to be in a concentrated smoke cloud for 96 hours for it to affect you."

What about the water? "There's no impact, the river is large enough and there's very little runoff into the river," said Anderson.

Foss hopes that's true, but she's not entirely convinced. "I haven't seen any boats in the water from DNR or EPD really doing any testing to back up that statement," she told us.

While environmentalists say the air and water aren't contaminated, they do say the construction crew that started the fire violated several of state regulations.

"The air quality for creosote poles on fire, solid waste because it's improper disposal, and also water quality for the materials released into it, solids and the sheen from the creosote poles," said environmental emergency specialist Michelle Cortes.

Once the Environmental Protection Division finishes its investigation, officials say the responsible party will be fined. The EPD says the fire was started by a blowtorch that one of contractors left on.

Reported by: Michelle Paynter, mpaynter@wtoc.com