Velsicol chemical cleanup delayed by access issues - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Velsicol chemical cleanup delayed by access issues

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Little progress is being made in cleaning up a Memphis neighborhood contaminated by chemical wastes.

Velsicol Chemical Corp., under state orders to clean up the mess left behind by pesticide production, says homeowners have withheld permission for access to their properties, while residents, who have filed a $1.75 billion lawsuit, say cleanup plans are flawed.

The area is along Cypress Creek which flows across the northern part of Memphis and empties into the Wolf River. The Wolf runs to the Mississippi River.

Jill Steinberg, a Velsicol lawyer, said the company has made numerous requests for access to the dozen pieces of property scheduled for cleanup.

"It hasn't been a definitive 'no,' but there hasn't been anyone who's said 'yes,"' she said.

Murray Wells, a lawyer for the residents, said the planned cleanup could be little more than a temporary fix that overlooks serious contamination.

"Nothing I see convinces me that this cures the problem long term," Wells said. "I want to be clear - we want the property to be cleaned up, but we want to make sure the remediation efforts are adequate."

The Health Department released a report this year saying that while elevated cancer rates have been recorded along the creek, no clear links have been found to environmental causes.

Velsicol is blamed for causing the contamination years ago. The company said it wanted to begin the cleanup work in October, and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has approved the company's plan.

Philip Davis, the agency's waste management director in Memphis, said he was unsure how to resolve the impasse between the company and the landowners.

"I don't know if we can require someone who's living on a contaminated piece of property to open their property up," Davis said.

Soil in the area contains the pesticide dieldrin, which has been linked to cancer and other health problems.

Tests have revealed concentrations up to 15 times the level set as unsafe by state and federal authorities. Plans call for removing as much as two feet of dirt from the surface of the contaminated area and replacing it with untainted soil.

Velsicol has not said how much the cleanup is expected to cost.

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