Nashville burying toxic chemicals near Cumberland River - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Nashville burying toxic chemicals near Cumberland River

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

There is a lot of demolition and construction going on in Nashville these days, but there are serious concerns about the city's plan of action for getting rid of an old building with troublesome things inside.

The city wants to bury the materials, including arsenic and PCBs - a mixture of individual chemicals so toxic to the environment, they're no longer produced - right where they lie, just 300 yards from the Cumberland River.

The debris is located at what is left of a complex near Germantown no one was sorry to see go. Built in the late 1950s, the facility was where the city's water department once burned human sewage, then hauled the sludge off by the truckload to landfills.

But is this spot now about to become a landfill itself? The leftover incinerator rubble is no ordinary construction debris.

"It contains PCBs, lead, arsenic, petroleum-based soils, heavy metals. There's all kind of contaminants in it," said concerned taxpayer Ken Jakes.

And the city's plan, it seems, is to leave it, bury it and cover it up.

"We're talking 300 yards from the Cumberland River and 20-something feet below the water table. Right here at the Cumberland River, less than seven blocks from the state Capitol," Jakes said. "In essence, Metro is creating their own landfill."

And apparently the city is not following the very code it set for anyone wanting to build or tear something down, which states all construction and demolition waste should be disposed of in an approved landfill and no construction and demolition waste can be stored on the property.

"If they caught you doing what they're trying to do, they would throw you under the bus. You'd be out there removing everything that's put in the ground," Jakes said.

"It doesn't sound like Metro has to play by the same rules," said neighbor and activist Mike Byrd.

Byrd has seen and heard a lot of construction from his Salemtown porch, and this one has been a long project - years, in fact.

Some 1,000 tons of rubble was so polluted, the EPA got involved and it was then hauled off to an approved landfill as the law requires.

However, the last 8 to 9 tons of material that remains still has been shown to contain lead, heavy metals, arsenic and PCBs, yet Metro Codes, Metro Water Services and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation say it's best just to bury it.

The officials say everything bad is in low concentrations, except for arsenic - and even that isn't any worse than what you would find in new commercial brick from a building supply store.

The basement of the old structure, they claim, would essentially become a "concrete tomb for the debris" and the soil a "protective cap."

"A basement isn't a tomb. I mean, basements leak, right?" Byrd said. "If they can find money for convention centers, if they can find money for new transit lines to west Nashville, why can't they cough up a one-time fee to haul off debris that's toxic to us - that causes cancer, in some cases - out of the neighborhood and away from the river? Why can't they do that?"

Parts of the site on Second Avenue North were under water during the historic May 2010 flood. The Channel 4 I-Team asked officials from Metro Water and Codes to speak about the project, but they preferred to explain their position in emails.

Yet the contractor being asked to do this burial work wanted a piece of paper on city letterhead saying this course of action was OK. That company has yet to get the directive in writing.

Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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