History is never just history – especially when it comes to environmental issues. And especially with environmental issues that have long memories and long-lasting effects. Like lead.
Ask people in at least 1,892 homes in eight neighborhoods of Chattanooga on the city’s southside – Cowart Place, Jefferson Heights, Southside Gardens, Richmond, Highland Park, Oak Grove, East Lake, and Alton Park.
And no, that has nothing to do with leaded paint, which was discovered years ago as dangerous and has since been made popular. This lead poisoning hazard – which is estimated to cost US taxpayers an estimated $ 113.5 million over the next decade – affects the land these homes stand on, the gardens where children play, and the floors the residents walk on gardening.
The soil in these neighborhoods has been contaminated over the past century by debris from more than 60 iron, brass, and bronze foundries that operated in Chattanooga for nearly a century until the 1980s. As Chattanooga moved away from the edge of an often-flooded river – in front of the TVA, in front of the Chickamauga Dam, in front of environmental regulations and EPA – that foundry sands, the waste of many manufacturing efforts, were used to build land against further flooding.
Such was the case in the heart of Southside – Read, Mitchell and Carr Streets – once part of a huge train station. After several floods in the city around the turn of the 20th
Now these streets and many of their homes have become the epicenter of our lead contamination discovery.
Chattanooga’s disaster was investigated by Tennessee environmental agencies and the EPA a decade ago when a Read Avenue resident – a gardener – showed up at an emergency room with lead poisoning and was hospitalized.
First, in 2011 and early 2012, just over 80 apartment yards along Read Avenue, Mitchell Avenue and Underwood Street (formerly Carr Street) were excavated and the soil was replaced with EPA as funding was not fully available until more yards were tested and until the supervisory authorities were able to assign the sites to the EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List in September 2018.
But that was just the tip of our leading iceberg.
By November 2012, environmental investigators had taken 230 soil samples in downtown neighborhoods from Missionary Ridge to St. Elmo and found high levels of lead in more than 10% of them. This meant that the possibility of dangerous lead levels in our soil was more widespread.
Nearly 1,900 yards have been sampled since then, and the number is set to grow. 280 have been cleaned to date, with EPA contractors removing at least 29,967 tons of contaminated soil – the top 12 to 24 inch yards classified as lead-contaminated – and replacing it with at least 17,978 cubic feet of clean soil. according to EPA spokesman Jason McDonald and documents on the website on the EPA government website.
McDonald told the Times Free Press that lead contamination in Chattanooga is one of the agency’s largest cleanup sites due to the use of contaminated foundry sand. He said the factories – most of which have long been out of service – used the soil as filler dirt and spread it out as topsoil long before the lead in that waste was discovered and later regulated by the EPA. Despite the fact that the polluters cannot pay for cleaning, the work does not cost these landowners anything. That is the purpose of the Superfund program: to pay the bill if the polluter is not found and brought to pay.
The average cost of redeveloping each property is now about $ 60,000, and the redevelopment is expected to take another eight to ten years, McDonald said.
This is not Chattanooga’s first attempt at cleanups related to the EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List. But it’s the first one that literally landed on your doorstep.
The city’s 18-acre Amnicola landfill, which was used for building rubble disposal from 1970 to 1973, was added to the list in 1983 due to contaminated rubble, groundwater and soil. In 1996 the landfill was removed from the Superfund list after the cleanup paid for by the polluters and is now the location of several companies.
The second was the five-year, $ 25 million cleanup of Chattanooga Creek – a massive effort to remove toxic coal tar from one of the city’s largest streams and a tributary of the Tennessee River. In the mid-1990s, just before a two-mile section of the creek was declared a national superfund site, the EPA named it one of the most polluted rivers in the country.
In the early to mid-20th century, Tennessee Products burned coal for decades to make coke, a foundry fuel used in the steel industry. Especially during World War II, when the plant ran 24 hours a day, the company literally dumped its excess coal tar in the creek – a common practice at the time. In places the coal tar lined the stream to a depth of more than two and a half meters.
According to records from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, a total of 46 toxic waste sites have been identified in the floodplains. Most of the cleanup was completed by the end of 2010, much of it at the expense of polluters. However, the site was not removed until 2019 (for monitoring purposes).
Like politics, the environment is local. The EPA’s Superfund program helped clean up the toxic Chattanooga Creek, Amnicola Dump, and is now working on lead-filled shipyards in our city.
Fortunately for Chattanooga, the regulations aren’t all bad, are they?