(WBIR - Knoxville) Tuesday the Environmental Protection Agency continued the emergency clean-up of hazardous materials in an abandoned science building at Knoxville College.
The abandoned A.K. Stewart Science Building at the historic college contains thousands of bottles of lab chemicals and hazardous substances. Many of the containers are leaking, not properly stored, and missing labels.
"One of the big challenges is the amount of debris inside the building from trespassers. You have all the chairs pushed over, boxes gone through, desks turned over. If it didn't have all the debris in the way, it would be a lot easier job. But the big challenge is safely getting to the material," said Kevin Eichinger, the EPA's on-scene coordinator at Knoxville College.
Eichinger said the cleanup will likely take around four weeks. The chemicals alone do not present a danger to the health of the surrounding community. The real threat comes from the possibility of trespassers causing the chemicals to react.
"The main thing folks need to know is this is a threat. But the threat is if people would have continued to trespass and break into the building, then mix chemicals so there was a reaction. Of if they steal stuff and take it back to their homes and neighborhoods. Or maybe if they do some things that would cause a fire," said Eichinger.
The EPA has sealed the building and provided security while they separate chemicals to reduce the chance of chemical reactions. The chemicals will eventually be shipped to a facility capable of safely disposing of the material.
Eichinger says the current budget for the project is $250,000. The federal government is funding the cleanup.
The campus of Knoxville College has a total of more than 20 buildings. All but four are abandoned. The school and EPA will tour the other vacant buildings to ensure there are no other potential hazardous materials present.
"There's probably not going to be the volume of substances you'd find in a place like a science lab, but there may be things like cleaning items, oils, or other items stored in the other buildings we'll want to properly dispose of," said Eichinger.
This is yet another setback for the handful of remaining faculty and staff struggling to save the historic black college. Founded in 1875, the school and its students played a vital role during the Civil Rights Movement.
Knoxville College lost its accreditation in 1997. Since then, the school's enrollment has dwindled and buildings have fallen into disrepair. Less than two dozen students attended the school last semester.
Evelyn Hallman took over as the school's president in January. She says the school and its alumni refuse to give up hope.
"We don't have time to go throw a pity party. We just have to move on," said Hallman. "We're just glad we have the agency to come in and they're keeping us informed in terms of what needs to be done."