South Chattanooga residents get update on Velsicol cleanup

South Chattanooga residents get update on Velsicol cleanup

September 16th, 2011 by Andrew Pantazi in News

Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Residents around the old Velsicol site may not get what they want - a deep cleanup of the former chemical property - because the area is zoned for industry.

The Tennessee Department of Health is analyzing thousands of pages of data to determine whether the defunct Velsicol Chemical plant in South Chattanooga is harming local residents.

Bonnie Bashor, the director of the Environmental Epidemiology Program at the Health Department, hosted a meeting Thursday at the Bethlehem Center in Alton Park explaining the health assessment process.

"We're working as fast as we can go," Bashor said. "But we want to do it right."

Bashor and her staff will spend the next few months looking at data to determine if the current cleanup plan is sufficient or if more drastic measures need to be taken.

The plant site, which already has had 24 million pounds of pollution removed, was given a permit saying that two feet of dirt needs to cover the polluted ground, but local activists say that isn't enough.

Instead, activist Jeremy Tallman-Gazaway said workers should put a high-density polyethylene liner under two feet of compacted clay and twomore feet of soil to prevent groundwater contamination.

The state Health Department is assessing the environmental damage, according to Bashor, because of a letter that Tallman-Gazaway's wife, Elizabeth, had sent to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

"We haven't been idle since the letter came, although it may seem that way," Bashor said. "We have a whole lot of data that's not always useable. This doesn't happen overnight. It takes us awhile to do it."

Bashor said that the rough draft of the report should be finished before the year is over.

"We've just been waiting for any results we can get," Tallman-Gazaway said.