Petitioners rally for Alton Park chemical cleanup - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Petitioners rally for Alton Park chemical cleanup

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Story by Megan Boatwright
Eyewitness News Reporter

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)-- Members of the Sierra Club Cherokee Group hit the streets Sunday, with petitions in hand.

The clock is ticking to collect signatures that might encourage state regulators to do more about an abandoned chemical plant in Alton Park.

In January, T-DEC and Velsicol representatives presented residents with a plan for the former site.

But residents aren't happy with the proposal, saying it's a cover up, not a real solution to groundwater contamination.

T-DEC says they've already removed 24-million pounds of contaminated material from the Alton Park site. The 'final remedy' Velsicol proposed would continue to monitor groundwater and cover most of the site with clean dirt, which the chemical company says would act as a barrier to human exposure.

"We can't let Velsicol leave the plant site without cleaning it up," says Jeremy Tallman-Gazaway, petitioner.

The petitioners had little trouble talking Alton Park residents in signing their name on the dotted line.

"It's like a nasty, moist, sour smell," says Courtney Brewer.

Courtney Brewer can see the old Velsicol sites from his house. His mother has asthma and both parents complain of frequent headaches. Brewer says you get used to the smell after a while.

"It kind of smells all the time, you get use to it," says Brewer.

"It's just horrible, it's horrible for your health and prolonged exposure to that will do nothing but destroy the environment around here," says Tallman-Gazaway.

In 1963, Velsicol purchased the site and began producing herbicides, insecticides and benzoic acid.

During that time they stored and disposed of waste materials on site.

The plant was demolished in 2007 after it ceased operation.

T-DEC says an investigation and remediation of the site have been on-going for years and the department's primary concern is to shield the public from exposure to contaminants, which is what 12-18 inches of clean dirt is supposed to do.

"The reason this is not acceptable is that water will continue to drain through the soil and collect these contaminants and go into the groundwater," says Tallman-Gazaway.

Tallman-Gazaway says the soil is a cover-up, not a fix. He worries what long-term exposure to cancer causing chemicals like benzene and benzoyl will mean for the community.

"We want to let all the rest of the citizens of Chattanooga know and the surrounding counties that Velsicol Chemical Plant has been polluting this area for 60 years," says Tallman-Gazaway.

The Sierra Club has until the 11th to submit signatures and comments.

T-DEC will review all comments before making a final decision on the final plan, including those from the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

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