EPA: Knox County Superfund site in final stages of cleanup
Author: Stephanie Haines
Published: 6:50 PM EDT May 17, 2018
Updated: 7:32 PM EDT May 17, 2018
LOCAL 6 Articles

An EPA-designated hazardous waste site exists in Knox County.

The 13-acre site is called Smokey Mountain Smelters, and it sits on Maryville Pike just outside the Knoxville city line.

In 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) named the old fertilizer and smelting operation a Superfund site for contaminated soil, sediment and surface water.

The EPA says the site is almost cleaned up.

EXPLORE

EPA: Knox County Superfund site in final stages of cleanup

LOCAL
Chapter 1

LOW-PROFILE

Knox County —

The site is bordered by two rail lines and some woodlands, and nearby are residential and commercial properties. No structures exist on the site.

A large fence surrounds the site, and signs are posted saying, “Danger. Do Not Enter. By Order of the U.S. EPA.”

Still, people familiar with the site say the average person may not know what it is.

“To the unsuspecting eye, you would have no idea it was a Superfund site,” Maryville Sociology Professor Andrew Gunnoe said. “It just looks like a 13-acre field.”

The EPA asked Gunnoe to do some community research for the site.

“There are some of us who have been here a long time that know about it,” Sandra Williamson, a resident of Montgomery Village, a neighborhood the EPA says is located about 200 feet from the site.

“Concerns? Yah, I think there are some genuine concerns,” Williamson added. “And then there are some who aren’t that concerned about it because they are probably still unaware.”

Knoxville Community Development Corporation (KCDC) owns Montgomery Village and told 10News in a statement that residents’ safety and well-being is a top priority, and the group will continue to support the EPA in this effort.

Chapter 2

HOW IT BEGAN

Knox County —

According to a 2015 EPA report, the site started as a fertilizer operation in the 1920s. Then from 1979 to 1994, it became a smelting operation, which melted scrap aluminum.

The waste was salt-cake, which is a byproduct of smelting and is made up of several contaminants.

The Tennessee Department of Conservation (TDEC) started testing the site in 1997. The EPA got involved in 2006.

Both agencies found the contaminants were mostly located in waste piles, raw materials, soil, sediments, and surface water. The report states some surface water flowed into a tributary of the Flenniken Branch.

In 2010, the EPA named it a Superfund site and lists 14 contaminants.

This is a screen capture of the contaminants the EPA lists on its website for Smokey Mountain Smelters, a Superfund site in Knox County.
This is a screen capture of the contaminants the EPA lists on its website for Smokey Mountain Smelters, a Superfund site in Knox County.
Haines, Stephanie
Chapter 3

CAPPED CONTAMINANTS

Knox County —

Once nearby residents learn about the Superfund site, Williamson says their next question is usually about health effects.

“That’s kind of their first questions that they have, is how can it affect their health and how can it affect them,” Williamson said.

In 2010, the EPA removed all the structures and contaminated waste material.

The EPA consolidated the contaminants and capped them underground. The cap consists of one foot of clay and six inches of topsoil and grass. This cap prevents storm water from contacting the contaminants.

According to the 2015 report, all suspected sources of contamination were covered under the clay caps.

“So it’s basically compacted in place so you couldn’t, you couldn’t get to anything that would hurt,” Scott Miller, the EPA remedial project coordinator, said.

The EPA also made some storm water improvements on site.

Chapter 4

WHAT’S NEXT

Knox County —

The EPA says it just finished a design for the final remedial action on site, which will specifically groundwater and some contaminated “hotspots” in the soil.

“So we’re proposing to build a cap, engineer a cap out there and also do groundwater injections to treat and take the metals out of the water there,” Miller said.

Miller also said groundwater is tested twice a year.

He did not say how long that might take or when that action may begin.

Chapter 5

THE COST

Knox County —

The EPA says cleanup on site has cost $9.1 million so far. It expects the project to cost $2.5 million more.

The EPA says it is working with but would not identify the responsible party.

There is a land owner listed in public records, but according to the Knox County Trustee’s office, taxes have been delinquent since 2007.

A spokesperson for Knox County told 10News the county has no plans to buy the land.

Chapter 6

LOOKING AHEAD

Knox County —

Prof. Andrew Gunnoe of Maryville College was asked by the EPA to conduct community research and find out what it wants to see with the land.

“So when we began our research process, we were kind of, well, what can you do with this land, they pointed us to a couple of different examples in other cities,” Gunnoe said.

Williamson would like to see a police or first responders outpost be put on the site.

The EPA told 10News something like that could be built there.

“You know, we have to keep working towards that goal,” Williamson said.