published Sunday, July 14th, 2013

Cave water pollution a long, puzzling story

Everything has a consequence, and for every action there is a reaction. Consider a dangerous herbicide, banned in the United States in 1985, but found recently in cave water in Lookout Valley between Aetna and Raccoon mountains.

The herbicide is 2,4,5-TP -- more commonly known as Silvex or fenoprop. It was banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because it is a long-lived chemical which, in drinking water, was found to cause liver and kidney damage over time.

Only 3.6 parts per billion are considered safe in tap water, but 470 parts per billion were found in a June 1 sample of the cave water here. How the contaminant got there is also a long story.

The EPA says the greatest use of the chemical was to prevent the sprouting and growing of woody plants and broadleaf weeds. It could be used to clear ground in rangeland improvement projects or lawns, including golf courses. It also was used aquatically to control weeds in ditches and riverbanks, and on reservoirs, streams, and along Southern waterways, according to EPA. It could also have been used beneath power transmission lines.

Atop the long crown of Aetna Mountain is a string of massive Tennessee Valley Authority transmission towers that carry high-voltage power lines. Atop Raccoon Mountain are more power transmission lines that run to and from the Raccoon Mountain Pumped Storage Plant. TVA for decades has sprayed herbicides on the power transmission lines to keep trees and brush clear beneath them because electrical arcs from vegetation that grows too tall can cause massive power outages.

TVA officials acknowledge the use of herbicides, but this week said they cannot know without more research whether they have ever used Silvex.

Wherever and however it was used here, it would -- by virtue of its very makeup -- still be around. Like dioxin and DDT and many other banned pesticides, herbicides and chemicals, 2,4,5-TP is slow to break down. In fact, it hangs around for decades and decades.

So from a mountain peak or a riverbank or a golf course or a farm field, it will stick in the dirt until it gets washed from place to place to place whenever there is a hard rain or land disturbance.

If you put those two events together, you get real movement, as freshly bared soil can easily become a silty mudwash under the kinds of rains we've had this year.

The question for the cave owners, Jeff and Steven Perlaky, is what does it mean for their property, Raccoon Mountain Caverns and Raccoon Mountain campgrounds. They say they believe bulldozing to move earth for the posh Black Creek development, along with failed or deficient stormwater runoff fences, has swept the contaminated soils and storm water into their cave.

In water sampling at the cave last year -- before the Black Creek development swung into high gear -- the chemical wasn't found. With at least 10 inches of rain in the Lookout Valley region in the past two weeks, silt-laden water poured off the construction sites, and angry neighbors charged that lax pollution controls made a bad situation worse.

Developer Doug Stein, who also is chairman of the Chattanooga City Stormwater Regulation Board, said vandals had disrupted his silt fences.

Ironically, the development's stormwater trouble is reminiscent of another silting event off Aetna Mountain into Lookout Valley in recent years. A favorite pastime in the area is four-wheeling along the power line right-of-way, which also disturbs lots of dirt that no doubt holds some herbicide chemicals. It was Stein and other Black Creek developers who complained about the silt and stormwater pollution caused by the all-terrain vehicle playground atop Aetna Mountain in 2011.

That year, another massive weather event -- the torrent of rain that accompanied tornadoes here, sent mud swirlling from what four-wheelers called the Peanut Butter hole down an Aetna Mountain creek until it plopped into the middle of U.S. Highway 41 and eventually oozed into the Tennessee River, creating a sandy delta.

The bad blood among the developers, longtime residents like the Perlakys, and the four-wheelers will now likely escalate.

But there are other reactions and consequences environmentally.

The Perlakys' cave, originally known as "The Crystal Cave" during commercial tours in the 1960s, is home to several endangered species including the Indiana gray bat and the blind cave spider, which is known only to exist there.

So, what should we make of an action that theoretically ended in 1985 having a reaction today with the discovery of a banned pollutant in a previously pristine cave?

We all want to turn on lights when we get home. So our utilities build power plants and transmission lines, and then must keep them clear. We all want our patios and boat docks clean and pretty and free of weeds without back-breaking sweat. Of course, we all want healthy kidneys and livers, too, so we must balance consequences: Some that we can't even know to question.

The world we live in is complicated and fragile. What's billed as a panacea today may be a curse in 50 years.

Long live the blind cave spider.

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aae1049 said...

Conflicts of Intest abound in this matter.

The Black Creek roads and infrastructure up Aetna Mtn are taxpayer funded, and the Chairman of the Stormwater Board is the developer. Not only is the the Aetna Mtn infrastructure funded by the taxpayer for these private developers, (after all why would these private developers use their own money, when our city council gives them the public money>) the stormwater rules do not apply to them.

This is more like a Ponzi Scheme to me. When the bond holders, are the developers, are the Chairman of the Stormwater Board, it just doesn't get any more convoluted with these insiders, turning MO of YO tax dollars into their working capital.

We also have photographs, peace, love and rock and roll.

Photos on Chatta Leaks FB page.

July 14, 2013 at 1:59 a.m.
nucanuck said...

Bidness trumps ethics, everybody knows that. Get a fracking clue.

July 14, 2013 at 2:21 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Poor ethics with private money, hey go for it, but public tax dollars, has some degree of accountability.

July 14, 2013 at 2:42 a.m.
nucanuck said...

aae, you failed to pick up my sarcasm. I was agreeing with you.

July 14, 2013 at 2:46 a.m.
librul said...

Ony when Black Creek Golf Course is covered two feet deep in mud and rock and water is standing in every one of their condos will the idiocy of mountaintop development above populated valley land become evident to them. And even then, they will demand public money for cleanup.

Political usurpation of logic and standing law for the profit of elites and theft of public funds to serve their need for more, More, MORE will continue to make a mockery of the concepts of land use planning and conservation.

With respect to the cave pollution - if the pesticide in question was commonly used by Bowater Paper Co. on their pine plantations atop the mountain or by TVA on their transmission lines, isn't there an element of liability to be determined for the impact on public health and resources? Sadly, any hope of the Obama EPA doing ANYTHING about that is a phantom hope.

July 14, 2013 at 9:55 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Nucannuk, I did. I am going to reuse your term bidness, that is what is going on with this pack of political appointees. We the people were required to give $9 million in bond issues to act as the TIF Group's bank. These bond funds should have gone to repair blighted and poor areas of Chattanooga, instead of to this elite pack of scammers and insiders at the city of Chattanooga gov.

The TIFFERS as we call them, make a bidness into turning our mandated property tax dollars into their working capital. They are on appointed city boards. Doug Stein, Chairman of the Stormwater Board, Mike Mallen, Airport Authority Board and attorney for Miller and Martin that brokered to taking of Bond money, and is former City Councilwoman Sally Robinson's son in law. Then, there is Gary Chazem, Chairman of the Zoo. They are insiders that scammed a way for the public to pay for their roads and sewer to a golf club. How is this in the best interest of the public? Do we have a shortate of gated golf course communities?

TIF bond issues are intended to rehabilitate blighted areas. The TIF attorney minions have harassed citizen opposition to this taking of public money, issued subpoenas to watch group members, deposed us, sent us letter, basically ordering us to stop speaking this truth. Last time I checked, when a group takes $9 million in public money for their personal working capital, they open the door to public inspection. So, we are allowed to oppose loudly. I guess the Tiffers would do just about anything. They have sent letter to my home, belittled me in deposition for opposing this action, and did the same to many others. The truth is not slander.

July 14, 2013 at 11:38 a.m.
cooljb said...

One thing to add. The four wheelers have been keeping the fire breaks and roads passable from fallen trees, etc. for decades. However, IT IS ONLY SINCE BLACK CREEK HAS BEEN CLEARING LAND ON THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN IN THE LAST YEAR,OR SO, THAT THE CHEMICALS HAVE BEEN FOUND, ALIVE AND WELL, READY TO DESTROY YOUR LIVER AND KIDNEYS, PLUS NO TELLING WHAT ELSE. Sorry for the shouting, just trying to emphasize, the timeline for the chemicals showing up, since that is what the article was highlighting. Thanks and have a great day. PS. Don't drink the water in Lookout Valley, grow a garden or play in the ponds and creeks. Some have got to make a buck, no matter what might deform an unborn child and poison the wildlife that people hunt, then eat. Pass this article on, people need to realize that when people destroy something they created it is called vandalism and when people destroy something God created it is called "development". Something is wrong with that picture.

July 14, 2013 at 12:08 p.m.
frumpster65 said...

I read this article yesterday and started wondering about a few things....I started developing kidney stones 10 years ago, right at the time I moved back to LV. I think I will have my water tested.I also know several YOUNG ladies that have recurrent kidney stones from in this area....things that make you say hmmmmm... I do agree that some tings need to STOP and that ruining our ECO system to make a dollar is going to have repercussions.ALL the money in the money in the world wont cover up those repercussions down the road....pun intended

July 14, 2013 at 1:13 p.m.
gypsylady said...

This situation and the one in South Pittsburg share some amazing similarities. In both cases mitigation and damages could very well be passed along to taxpayers, and affected homeowners and small business owners.

July 14, 2013 at 1:59 p.m.
conservative said...

I am certain that some man made chemical which was deliberately put in that water is the reason why it is so hard for me to do 50 push ups any longer.

Who do I sue?

Where do I apply for Socialism Disability?

July 14, 2013 at 6:20 p.m.
aae1049 said...

There is NOTHING Free Enterprise about the corporate welfare these developers have scammed for.

Get the facts from expert:

July 14, 2013 at 7:53 p.m.
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