Updated at 5:20 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, with more information.
One of two Superfund sites in Chattanooga has been delisted from the EPA's National Priorities List, signaling Chattanooga Creek at the Tennessee Products site has been cleaned to the agency's federal standards.
The news came in a statement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announcing 27 sites nationwide were removed, at least partially, from the federal list of the country's most toxic places in 2019. It is the largest delisting in a single year since 2001.
"This means we are comfortable with the cleanup actions at Chattanooga Creek," site manager Craig Zeller said Tuesday of the delisting. "It was just time. There's been a big push in this administration to get these sites off this list where warranted."
Superfund sites were established by Congress in 1980 as part of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act. Those sites are widely referred to as Superfund sites. The classification allows the EPA to clean the contaminated sites and forces responsible parties to pay or reimburse the government for cleanup. The act designates funding to the EPA when there is no viable responsible party.
But the delisting changes almost nothing for the local site. Cleanup efforts have largely been completed for more than 10 years.
The agency capped contaminated substance with AquaBlok composite matter to keep the toxic chemical creosote from spreading. It issued its final report on the cleanup in January 2008, but the site remained listed for monitoring and to ensure the creek was positively responding to the cleanup efforts.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation will continue to lead annual water quality testing, and a fish advisory remains in effect for fish caught from the creek. Since the Tennessee Products site had been remediated, it no longer needed to be on the National Priorities List, the agency decided.
For decades in the early- to mid-20th century, Tennessee Products dumped its excess coal tar into Chattanooga Creek — a common practice at the time. The coal was burned to make coke, a foundry fuel used in the steel industry during World War II.
The EPA stepped in to lead site cleanup in the late 1990s and wanted to remediate the plant site itself but lost a lawsuit to now-property owners MeadWestvaco and had to vacate. The EPA instead concentrated on the creek where the coal tar was dumped.
"We celebrate this significant milestone that EPA and our partners are making to clean up contaminated property and return the land to productive use," reads a statement from EPA Region 4 Administrator Mary S. Walker.
The delistings ensure sites on the list are indeed a national priority in need of remediation.
Remediating and delisting such sites has been a central effort of the EPA under Administrator Andrew Wheeler and President Donald Trump.
"Our renewed focus on the Superfund program is reaching directly into the heart of communities that are looking to EPA for leadership and action," Wheeler said in a news release. "I am proud of the work we have done to deliver on the Trump Administration's commitment to protect the people we serve and support community revitalization by allowing land to be rediscovered and repurposed for productive use."