|Long Lane residents speak out about arsenic
By Tom Marshall
Senior Advocate writer
The Kentucky Dept. of Environmental Protection was conducting further soil tests on Long Lane Tuesday to determine the extent residents may have been exposed to arsenic.
High levels of arsenic were reported in the area last week.
Officials with the dept. claim the arsenic comes from improper disposal of wood at an old Southern Wood Treatment Co. plant that used to be located there.
Preservatives in the wood reportedly contained arsenic.
Residents have been warned to stay in as much as possible, don’t go out barefoot, not to consume food from gardens, not allow children to play in the dirt and wipe the paws of their pets if they have been outside.
“We are a disaster area right now when you can’t walk barefoot or eat out of your garden,” concerned resident Kathleen Shearer said.
Shearer claims residents have been told they may eventually have to move from the site because of the dangers of arsenic exposure. She also claims to know of 13 cases of cancer reported among residents in the past 15 years.
The road currently has 19 homes, Shearer calculated.
The Montgomery County Health Dept. met with residents Tuesday afternoon to provide them with information about the dangers of arsenic, a known carcinogen, and what to do if they suspect poisoning.
Public health director Jan Chamness said the dept. wants to help in any way it can.
She was on scene with other dept. staff when Environmental Protection met with the media Tuesday morning at the site.
Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Wesley Delk and county Judge-Executive Wally Johnson were also there.
High levels of arsenic were initially detected last Wednesday when Eric Brown with the Dept. of Environmental Protection went to the site to get measurements while following up on old, potentially toxic, Superfund disposal sites.
The site became a particular concern to the agency when it learned that homes had been built near the site, said Larry Hughes, Superfund branch manager with Environmental Protection.
The Superfund Program is charged with protecting human health and the environment from the release of hazardous substances, petroleum pollutants or contaminants into the environment, the dept. website explains.
The program seeks to ensure that contaminated sites are evaluated and cleaned up in a timely manner. In most cases, this means overseeing companies or individuals who have taken responsibility for cleaning up contamination found on their property. In cases where a responsible party cannot be found or is unable to act, the Superfund Program may take a direct role in cleaning up a site, the dept. says.
“Furthermore, the Superfund Program is committed to the safe and productive redevelopment and reuse of sites and properties on which releases have occurred, residual contamination remains or there is the perceived presence of releases,” the dept. says. “The program promotes and assures this by evaluating and approving voluntary remedial actions and property management plans.”
There are approximately 600 Superfund sites in Kentucky, Hughes said.
He said it takes time to inspect all of the sites and that’s why the Long Lane location had not been checked until now.
Initial screening levels on Long Lane reached as high as 10,000 parts per million in one area with a low of about 100 parts per million, Hughes said. Unsafe levels are considered anything above eight parts per million, he added.
Hughes said inspectors were back at the scene Tuesday to try to determine exactly how widespread the problem is.
“What we want to know if it is very pervasive or if it is spotty,” he said.
Part of the investigation will be to determine if arsenic has leached into local ground water.
Brown said there is no danger to the local water supply. He said there are no wells supplying water to local residents, all of whom are on city water.
Brown also said there is little danger of migration to other parts of the community.
Former state Rep. Adrian Arnold, a lifetime resident of the community who lives across the road from the site, said he was concerned about migration of the arsenic, but was comforted by Brown’s comments.
Arnold said the plant pressure treated wood posts there.
Shearer claims Southern Wood, which operated at the plant from 1973-1984, had improperly buried mulch, sawdust and wood into the ground before leaving. She said residents sometimes dig up the wood when working in the soil.
Residents are “scared to death,” Shearer said.
“We really have a bigger mess out here than people realize,” she said. “We definitely have major problems here and we don’t know what to do.”
Shearer said residents have discussed hiring an attorney to pursue legal action.
She said she’s been disappointed that officials haven’t been more forthcoming about the potential dangers residents face.
“It’s a matter of feeling like no one cares,” Shearer said.
Another resident, Gwen Sparks, posted on social media that she doesn’t know why it took so long to detect the problem.
“My nerves are tore up. I’ve been coming here for at least 26 years and lived here for five. I think it’s all a little too late to be telling us all of this. Everyone on this road that has passed has passed from some kind of cancer. Coincidence, I think not,” she claims.