published Saturday, August 17th, 2013

Chattanooga put on notice to clean up landfill dust complaints

Chattanooga workers lay asphalt next to the wheel washing machine on Friday at the City Landfill on Birchwood Pike. The machine is used to wash mud and dirt off of truck tires before they go back onto main roads. Residue, if left on the tires, can cause dust clouds in neighboring areas.
Chattanooga workers lay asphalt next to the wheel washing machine on Friday at the City Landfill on Birchwood Pike. The machine is used to wash mud and dirt off of truck tires before they go back onto main roads. Residue, if left on the tires, can cause dust clouds in neighboring areas.
Photo by Shawn Paik.

After years of complaints from Harrison residents, Chattanooga and two private companies have been put on notice by county environmental officials for air pollution created at landfills on Birchwood Pike.

The city owns and operates a sanitation landfill there, but a construction and demolition landfill owned by the company Environmental Materials and managed by Santek Environmental of Tennessee also operates at the site.

The city and the private companies were visited Aug. 1 by an investigator with the Chattanooga/Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau after residents complained that trucks leaving the landfills were creating large dust clouds.

In the report, investigator John Schultz found dried dirt on Birchwood Pike for half a mile leading up to the landfills. Once he met with landfill managers, he found the problem.

The driveway leading away from the wheel-wash station -- where trucks were supposed to have their wheels cleaned -- was a muddy mess.

"We observed vehicle traffic and noticed that trucks coming from the city's landfill were clean as they entered the wheel wash. After the trucks left the wheel wash, the tires collected mud from the driveway leading from the wheel wash," according to the report.

Schultz also noted that Santek trucks were caked with mud and the wheel washing wasn't enough to clean them fully.

Schultz recommended that the city, Santek and Environmental Materials be cited for violations and be required to meet with Air Pollution Control Bureau Director Bob Colby.

But Colby reduced that to a warning.

He said Thursday the city and Santek immediately started working to correct the problem by putting gravel over the dirt driveways. He also said recent excessive rains contributed to the problems.

"My understanding is they have already done some work. They've put down a lot of rock to knock down the mud as the trucks come up to the landfill," Colby said.

Since the city owns the wheel-wash station that all trucks exit through, it is ultimately responsible for particulate matter that leaves the landfills, according to Schultz's report.

Under the city's air pollution control permit, it has to do its best to keep particulate matter that could become airborne -- mud and dust in this case -- from leaving the site.

Lee Norris, public works administrator, said the city is working to do just that.

Along with graveling the drive through the wheel wash, he said, the traffic is being slowed.

"We put speed bumps in front of and behind the wheel-washing station, which means the wheels are getting washed longer," Norris said.

With heavy rains, wrangling mud becomes an around-the-clock job, he said.

"It's kind of like cutting grass in a right of way. You just can't cut it fast enough," Norris said.

Representatives of Santek did not return phone calls Friday.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at 423-757-6481 or at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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