The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to add a defunct chemical manufacturing plant in Hattiesburg to its priority list of hazardous waste sites around the country.  

Hercules, Inc. produced hundreds of chemical products, such as paints, varnishes, and pesticides in the city from 1923 until 2009. Since its closure, multiple EPA inspections have turned up benzene and over a dozen other contaminants in the underlying groundwater. 

After its most recent inspection in 2021, the agency proposed in March to add Hercules to its Superfund National Priorities List.

In 2016, the Delaware-based company, since bought by Ashland Global, settled a lawsuit with the City of Hattiesburg for $3 million after the city alleged that the factory “knowingly and improperly disposed of hazardous waste.” Two years before that, the EPA ordered Hercules to spend $1 million for groundwater remediation in the city.  

Sludge disposal pits at the site of the former Hercules, Inc. property in Hattiesburg on Mar. 17, 2021.

After its 2021 visit, the EPA said that the groundwater contamination extends outside of the Hercules property line, underneath an industrial complex and into a residential area. 

The City of Hattiesburg maintains eight drinking wells within two miles of the site. While the EPA hasn’t found any impact to those wells, it said it will continue sampling the residential area, which includes several apartment complexes within a mile radius of the old factory.  

The agency is receiving comments from the public until June 16, and will hold a public meeting on May 19 at the C.E. Roy Community Center in Hattiesburg at 6 P.M. The EPA will then take the comments into consideration as to whether or not to add the old Hercules site to its National Priorities List, or NPL. 

Smoke stacks at the property of the former Hercules, Inc. facility in Hattiesburg on Feb. 9, 2021.

Doing so would initiate an EPA-lead remediation process, after which the agency would work with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and local stakeholders to redevelop the site. 

Hercules would become the second location in Hattiesburg to make the NPL. In 2000, the EPA added Davis Timber Company, a wood-preservation facility, after detecting contaminants from the company in dead fish at a nearby country club in the 1970s and 1980s. 

The redevelopment effort there resulted in an animal shelter at the site that opened in 2013, joined a few years later by a dog park called Fields of Barktopia. The EPA finally removed it from the NPL in 2018.

If added to the NPL, Hercules would become the ninth current site on the list in Mississippi, all but one of which were either a wood or chemical product facility. The other eight are mapped below:

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This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.