Monday, January 28, 2008

Tedford Road Fire

For those who aren't aware, there is an underground fire at an illegal dump (sinkhole) off Tedford Road (Keller Bend area). I met Saturday with a representative of the affected neighbors to discuss the air quality issues and offer whatever help I could. I also spoke with Knox County's air quality group and EPA Region IV. So far, this is what we know:
- Well water testing results should be back around 2/1.
- Initial samples at the fire site had CO levels of up to 3000 ppm by the fire, and 300 ppm at the houses. That has since subsided to safe levels, and some nearby residents have purchased home CO monitors to check indoor levels, where CO can concentrate.
- Debris from the fire is mostly wood, although some PVC and nylon has been seen being pulled from the dump. At low temperatures, this material would create some fairly nasty organic pollutants
- EPA and Knox County have worked together to take 6 grab samples (4 at the site, 2 near houses) for detailed analysis by gas chromatigraph. That data will probably not come back until about 2/8. If those samples show significant organic pollutants / PICs, some decisions would be made about additional sampling.
- I have asked EPA for details on the sampling protocol, and will forward to the neighbors and interested parties, but the protocol is a broad spectrum look at dozens of possible pollutants using a gas chromatograph
- I received an opinion from EPA that continuous particulate monitoring would be advisable as well, and I passed this on to Knox County APCD. They indicated they would be looking to see if they could get a continuous particulate monitor out to the site.

Things to take forward from this:
- These illegal dumps are another massive liability. Cleanup of the Tedford site is estimated at $300,000 or more, and there may be a dozen or so similar sites in Knox County right now.
- We need to do a better job inspecting sinkholes for illegal dumping. There are only three permitted construction waste dumps in Knox County, so if you see dumping of construction waste into a sinkhole, it's almost assuredly illegal! Call Knox County Solid Waste and TDEC.
- We should consider adding capability and equipment for Knox County air quality to be able to do immediate toxics sampling.
- Future response protocols should include immediate deployment of particulate monitoring equipment, ideally a speciation monitor that can help identify levels of organic pollutants.

Update (Jan 29th): Agilaire purchased two CO monitors for inside monitoring of the two closest neighbors. While not as accurate as a regular monitor, they provide rough readings and should provide notification of dangerous levels at night and over the weekend. Jamie Dobbs has requested that the Mayor's office arrange an inter-agency meeting to improve communication. Results of the five well tests show no dangerous levels of pollutants (verbal info, waiting to receive written details). More plastics and rubber being dug out, as well as what appears to have been a railroad tie in the fire zone. Some rough calculations as to % of the debris that appears to have been in the fire zone, and % of plastics stream indicates total plastics burned could range anywhere from 0.1 to 2 cubic yards. Rural Metro reported that their multi-gas monitor showed no dangerous levels of H2S, so the nuisance odor appears to be formaldehyde. We should know more when the air tests come back (Friday?).

Update (1/30): Received well test data. Still working on finding a particulate monitor. Health department arranging meeting Friday with Health, KEMA, neighborhood reps, and other agencies. One of the neighbors, Carlene Steenkamp, has fired up a website to document the Tedford Road fire and I hope later can be used for public education of illegal landfills.

Update (1/30, 5pm): Fire appears to be out! Digging will continue tomorrow to confirm there are no more hot spots, but things look good. Meeting is likely to be postponed next week until after air sample data is back. Meeting will be a good opportunity to do a 'postmortem' and develop approaches for future public health emergencies.

Update (1/31, 1pm): Hot spot uncovered this morning, Rural Metro on the job. Checked again at about noon, no visible smoke or odor. It may take a few more days to dig down far enough to ensure it's out. Jamey is checking about work continuing through the weekend.

Much thanks to Tom Salter, Steve McDaniel, Jerry Harnish, Jamey Dobbs, Bruce Weuthrich, Al Ianncone, and the folks at EPA Region IV for their hard work on the issue.

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