Two Chattanooga Superfund sites are in flood zones, but EPA says there's no risk

Two Chattanooga Superfund sites are in flood zones, but EPA says there's no risk

January 6th, 2018 by Mark Pace in Local Regional News

A cloud rises from the ADM Southern Cellulose factory next to Milliken Park, which is located near a former EPA superfund site around the Piney Woods neighborhood on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. According to the Associated Press, these superfund sites are most commonly located near poor neighborhoods. The EPA has declared the Chattanooga area's superfund sites as safe.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Two Chattanooga locations are in flood zones, but EPA says there's no risk

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Trucks squeeze through narrow roads as steam pours from a nearby plant in Alton Park. A man walks out of a barbershop, laughing with a child, another works on a pickup truck a block away.

The community is overlooked by both bustling and abandoned plants built around Milliken Park. An overgrown baseball diamond sits near an upgraded playground inside its gates. A mural with smiling children welcomes guests. Nearby, the Chattanooga Creek flows.

Two signs sit on its banks close to the roadway warning residents. One reads "WARNING: ALL FISH from this body of water contain contaminants at levels thought to increase the risk of cancer or other serious illness in humans. These fish should not be eaten."

The neighborhood surrounds a Superfund site on the National Priorities List — a list of the nation's most polluted places designated as possible cleanup locations by the Environmental Protection Agency.

This area was once home to Tennessee Products, a coal carbonization facility that decomposed coal to produce a substance known as coke. It includes an area where coal-tar waste was dumped into Chattanooga Creek, contaminating groundwater, sediment, soil and surface water.

It is one of two Superfund sites in flood zones in Chattanooga, the other being the 18-acre former Amni-cola Dump along the Tennessee Riverwalk.

An Associated Press investigation found nearly 2 million people in the U.S., many in low-income, largely minority neighborhoods, live within a mile of 327 Superfund sites in areas prone to flooding or vulnerable to rising seas caused by climate change.

In Chattanooga, nearly 9,500 people live within a mile of the locations, with many of those residents living in poverty.

"The vulnerable sites are surrounded by the most vulnerable people," AP data journalist Angeliki Kastanis said in a teleconference with reporters.

The flooding in Houston in 2017 spotlighted the dangers of flooding near Superfund sites. More than a dozen Superfund sites were flooded by Hurricane Harvey, with breaches reported at two, according to the AP, spilling toxic chemicals into floodwater. However, local sites pose no risk, according to the EPA.

The Amnicola site has been remediated, removed from the National Priority List, and repurposed. The Chattanooga Food Bank now occupies the property.

Sites such as these, which have been removed from the priority list, were included by the AP and in a 2012 EPA report because the work done to remedy the pollutants may have used methods not considered safe for more intense or frequent flooding, according to the AP data team.

However, the local sites were properly remediated, according to regional EPA spokesman Jason McDonald, and no longer pose a threat to the community.

The Amnicola site sits along the Tennessee River, and the Tennessee Valley Authority manages the river system through its network of dams.

Through 2017, TVA prevented $6.3 billion in flood losses, $5.7 billion of that coming in Chattanooga, according to TVA spokesman Scott Fiedler.

"We're able to use our 80 years of experience and our technology to manage the river system to move water to proactively manage any risk to property or human life," he said.

However, even if the local sites were to flood, no release of chemicals is expected at either, McDonald wrote in an email.

The contaminated sediment at the Chattanooga Creek site was covered with an impervious clay layer, which is monitored annually.

"The contaminated sediment no longer poses an ecological threat to the creek or to human health," McDonald wrote.

The Chattanooga Creek routinely floods, but the cover secures sediment from moving and the property no longer has any structures.

Despite the warning signs, the EPA believes the area has been fully restored.

"It has been performing well, and the creek has returned to its healthy, natural state," McDonald wrote.

Contact staff writer Mark Pace at mpace@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6361. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook @ChattanoogaOutdoors.


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