In 1980, the United States Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), which created the Superfund program to fight pollution in the United States. Tennessee has 28 Superfund sites, each with a unique history of contamination and associated health effects.
History of Superfund Sites in Tennessee
The majority of Superfund sites in Tennessee were added to the National Priorities List (NPL) in the 1990s and early 2000s. The sites are located across the state, with the highest concentration in the industrial and urban areas of Western and central Tennessee.
Many of these sites are derived from industrial and manufacturing facilities throughout the state. Unfortunately, industrial practices in the 20th century mostly focused on chemical production, metal finishing, and waste disposal. The facilities which engaged in these practices often disposed of their waste in unregulated landfills. This created significant contamination in the soil, groundwater, and even in the air.
With dozens of Superfund sites throughout the state, some of them are more prominent than others. For example, the Oak Ridge Reservation in Oak Ridge is one of the most significant Superfund sites in the state. Originally established as part of the Manhattan Project during World War II, the site continued to be used for nuclear weapons production and research. As a result, the site has been contaminated with various radioactive and chemical pollutants, including uranium, mercury, PCBs, and various other contaminants. While Oak Ridge presents the dangers of nuclear waste, the Tennesse Products Superfund is a prime example of the majority of Superfund sites throughout the United States. The site was home to a former chemical manufacturing facility that operated from the 1950s to the early 1970s. During that time, the various chemicals and dyes produced at the site spread throughout the soil and groundwater. The primary contaminants include volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Cleanup activities have involved excavation and treatment of contaminated soil, as well as groundwater remediation measures.
Chemicals Found at Superfund Sites in Tennessee
The hazardous substances found at Superfund sites in Tennessee vary depending on the site’s history and the type of industrial activity that took place there. The most common contaminants found at these sites include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), heavy metals, and pesticides.
VOCs are a group of chemicals that easily make their way through the soil and into any groundwater. Additionally, some VOCs are able to travel through the air and into neighboring communities.
PCBs are a group of chemicals that were used extensively in the electrical industry until they were banned in the U.S. in 1979 due to their environmental and health impacts.
Heavy metals, such as lead, arsenic, and mercury, are also commonly found at Superfund sites in the state alongside a number of pesticides, such as DDT and chlordane. These were widely used in agriculture in the U.S. until, like PCBs, they were banned in the 1970s due to their environmental and health impacts.
Health Effects Experienced at Superfund Sites in Tennessee
In order for any site to be designated as a Superfund site, the contaminants found in the area must be prominent enough and harmful enough to cause serious environmental and public-health risks. In Tennessee, the combination of VOCs, PCBs, heavy metals, and pesticides at Superfund sites brings a variety of health risks that anybody living nearby should be made aware of.
In most Superfund sites, VOCs are one of the most prominent findings. The most commonly found VOCs in Tennessee Superfund sites include trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), and benzene. These are found to cause a variety of issues from liver and kidney damage to respiratory conditions, and even various forms of cancer.
In addition to VOCs, a number of PCBs have been found in Tennessee that can cause health conditions, including developmental delays, skin rashes, and liver damage. Due to their common usage in electrical and electronic manufacturing, PCB contamination is quite common throughout Tennessee Superfund sites. With any industrial location, heavy metals can be quite prominent. Exposure to heavy metals like lead and mercury can cause neurological damage, developmental delays, and even certain forms of cancer.
While the Superfund program is essential in identifying and cleaning up contamination at sites across the United States, the contaminants found at each site very likely had an impact on surrounding communities. At OnderLaw, we aim to hold the corporations responsible for contaminating the area accountable for any problems they may have caused.
If you feel your community may have been impacted by a nearby Superfund site, call us today.