published Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Environmental agencies say no lead danger in Chattanooga's Southside


by Cliff Hightower
  • photo
    Workers gather up the topsoil in the back yard of The Church on Main. Contractors are digging up the top 6 inches of soil in the yards of many homes south of Main Street in an effort to rid the area of any possible lead contamination.
    Photo by Jake Daniels.
    enlarge photo

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SISTER CITY VISIT

A delegation from Hamm, Germany, is visiting to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Sister City agreement between that city and Chattanooga. The delegation, including Deputy Mayor Frau Ulrike Waesche, were presented to the City Council on Tuesday night. Over the next two days, the delegation will be visiting Coolidge Park, Point Park and the Incline Railway and will take a bike ride along the river.

The chances for anyone getting lead poisoning from contaminated soil in the Southside area are very slim, a top environmental agency official said Tuesday.

"The only way this becomes an imminent problem is if you ingest the soil," said Troy Keith, environmental field office manager for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation are in the midst of a remediation program in the Southside after high levels of lead were found in the soil. The agencies tested 82 homes and found lead in the soil of 52 of the residences.

The agencies were in front of the City Council on Tuesday afternoon to give members a briefing of the conditions and the cleanup of the area.

Keith, along with Perry Gaughan, an EPA emergency responder, showed slides of the contaminated soil and explained how it is being removed and clean soil put back in.

Councilman Jack Benson, though, immediately asked if there is any potential harm.

"I want to know what danger is out there," Benson said.

Gaughan said it looked as if the top soil is contaminated and told the council that children were the most affected. He said for the most part they should wash their hands after playing outside.

"Should any of them run to the doctor right now?" Benson asked.

Keith said he has advised those in the area to go to get tests just as a precaution, but he said he thinks the possibility of anyone getting sick is remote.

"It is a big deal," he said. "But it's not the end of the world. It's not a nuclear meltdown."

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him at twitter.com/cliffhightower or facebook.com/cliff.hightower.

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