Soil contaminated with toxic petroleum products buried downtownPosted: Updated:
There is a new layer of concern about a controversial demolition and disposal project underway in downtown Nashville.
Metro Water Services has decided to bury what is left of an old sewage incinerator that contains what it considers "safe levels" of toxic material.
Now, it appears there's more to the story. Specifically, a pile of dirt - also heavily polluted in places - that has been sitting on Second Avenue North for years will also go back into the ground.
Some people are calling the area Nashville's new landfill.
The downtown burial spot has arsenic, lead and PCBs - a mixture of individual chemicals so toxic to the environment, they're no longer produced - still clinging to the toppled brick and debris.
Metro Water Services and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation say it's fine to just leave the materials there and flag the property deed so future generations know what they're dealing with down below.
Even Metro Codes has signed off on what appears to be an exception to its most basic rule.
"The Metro code is clear - as clear as it gets - that you can't bury any demolition debris in Davidson County," said concerned taxpayer Ken Jakes.
A tall pile of dirt has sat there so long, trees have sprouted. And some of it is so contaminated with petroleum chemicals, workers could smell it.
Experts even said back in 2004 that it exceeded TDEC's most stringent "action level" for pollution.
The dirt came out of the ground years ago during the digging phase for the new sewage plant that cooks sludge into pellets.
And according to Metro Water Services, that excavated dirt - laced with petroleum in some places 60 times more concentrated than what's allowable - has never, in nine years, been removed from the Metro site.
The truckloads are now going right back into the ground in the same hole with the lead, arsenic and PCB demolition debris - all of which officials say is perfectly safe.
The Channel 4 I-Team asked Metro Water Services spokeswoman Sonia Harvat if the soil has been thoroughly tested yet.
"I can't answer that question. We have a contract with Archer Western, and the soil is to be tested prior to being put in the incinerator basements," Harvat said.
Yet the men actually handling the dirt said 97 loads have already gone in with no testing for petroleum pollution.
"It's like an insult to injury," said neighbor and activist Mike Byrd.
Byrd, who just learned about the dirt, now wonders if that's what he saw in 2010 after floodwater rushed into the area.
"When the water receded, there were black rings around the trees around the water treatment plant. As far as I know, there were never any tests done to determine what that stuff was," Byrd said.
"The flood never reached the stockpile," Harvat said. "The flood didn't even reach that site."
However, the contamination in parts of the dirt pile did reach levels that were troublesome - at least when it was initially tested back in 2004.
It appears very little analysis has been done since then.
TDEC, the agency that should be overseeing all matters environmental, said Metro sampled soil at some point and one of eight samples indicated higher petroleum levels.
Metro contacted TDEC, the agency said, and TDEC agreed to allow the city to leave the soil in place.
The new protocol is to test one out of every 10 truckloads from the pile headed for the hole in the ground.
"So you get a good representative sample of what's being placed in the site," Harvat said. "There's nothing wrong with this material. It can be put in a regular landfill. Instead of toting it to a landfill, we're burying it in place."
The Channel 4 I-Team checked with a nearby demolition landfill, Southern Services. It said it does not accept all of the things that are being buried at the Metro site.
The water department said if any truck load of that dirt appears to test higher for pollution than what is allowed, it will be sent to a permitted landfill.
The idea all along was to save time and money reusing the dirt as fill, and there's no word yet if analyzing every 10th truckload will offset that savings.
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