Dishing the dirt

Contaminated soil not expected to delay Wal-Mart opening

By Thomas Wilson

   Despite the presence of hazardous contaminants encountered during grading work, the construction firm building the Wal-Mart Supercenter does not expect a delay in the store's hand over in September.
   "Everything is on schedule," said Robin Rada, project superintendent of Hudson Construction Company. "They are not going to push it out."
   A debris pile, estimated at over 1,000 cubic yards in size, sits in plain view near the entrance of the new Wal-Mart super store structure. The debris contains contaminants of lead and asbestos-containing materials (ACM) according to an environmental survey conducted by the S&ME engineering firm overseeing the project. Scuttlebutt around Elizabethton during the last few days had the store opening pushed back until one week before Christmas.
   The Division of Solid Waste Management under the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation oversees disposal of hazardous debris material. In a letter to DSVM Director Mike Apple dated March 25, 2004, S&ME representatives reported the site's grading contractor encountered impacted material on the northwest portion of the Wal-Mart site below the floor slab of the former North American Fibers (NAF) manufacturing building.
   The material contained elevated levels of asbestos and elevated levels of lead concentration. The company reported the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) found lead materials ranging from 20 to 288 parts per million (ppm) according to sample results submitted to Tri-State Analytical Laboratory in January. A sample submitted to Environmental Science Corporation on Jan. 13 contained a lead concentration of 400 ppm found in the debris.
   The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's maximum recommended level of lead concentration is 15 parts per billion or 0.015 milligrams per liter of water.
   Wal-Mart officials have posted hazardous waste labels identifying the site as a lead and asbestos-contaminated soil site. S&ME officials referenced the debris and estimated the volume of the materials at 1,000 cubic yards. The presence of contaminants prohibit the debris from being disposed of in a municipal solid waste landfill.
   Under the Brownfields agreement between TDEC and Wal-Mart, the company can relocate and cap previously unknown contaminants including material that would otherwise be classified as hazardous waste. Under a proposal made by NAF, the contaminated dirt will be reburied nearby in landfill 200 feet by 100 feet located on property owned by North American Fibers. The materials would be enveloped in polyethylene sheeting, then buried and capped with 18 inches of "clean, compacted soil" with an additional 4 to 6 inches of soil to establish a vegetative cover.
   Rada referenced public concerns made about the contaminants found in the dirt and described the concerns over the material as "a load of crap."
   "The contaminants found in the dirt is so minute," said Rada.
   Hudson is scheduled to hand over possession of the site to Wal-Mart on Sept. 20. The store is expected to open for business in late October.
   A prevalent metal known to be harmful to humans, lead is frequently found in lead-based paint (LBP), soil contaminated by lead paint/dust or automobile exhaust from leaded gasoline and lead in pipes and solder joints found in buildings constructed before the late 1970s.
   Lead was introduced as an ingredient in gasoline during the 1920s and became a chemical base of paint in the early 20th century. Lead was banned as a chemical in house paint in 1978. U.S. food canners quit using lead solder in 1991, and the phase out of lead in gasoline reached its goal in 1995.
   According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development lead paint coats surfaces in 39 million homes, or 40 percent of the nation's entire housing stock. HUD estimates that, of those homes, lead paint hazards lurk in about 25 million, more than one-fifth of which are currently occupied by a child under the age of six.
   Lead exposure has been linked to numerous neurological problems in humans. Scientists agree that lead exposure is associated with decreased IQ levels among children. A new school of scientific thought attempts to link lead exposure in gasoline and lead-based paint to higher rates of criminal activity during the 20th century.
   The EPA sets standards for removal, storage and disposal of LBP debris for large quantity and small quantity debris producers. LBP debris is any component, fixture, or portion of a residence or other building coated wholly or partly with LBP.
   Examples include ceilings, crown molding, walls, chair rails, doors, door trim, floors, fireplaces, shelves, and radiators and other heating units. The EPA believes that organic materials found in municipal solid waste landfill facilities -- such as common garbage -- facilitate leaching of lead off-site from landfills. On the other hand, EPA has found that lead does not leach as much when exposed to materials such as those found in a construction and demolition landfill.