Environment

The Environmental Protection Agency will be back in southwest Louisville next month to take additional air samples near the Lees Lane Landfill, after testing earlier this year showed potential concerns.

Lees Lane operated as a landfill until the 1970s; for 35 years, it was a repository for household trash, industrial waste and toxic chemicals. It was added to the federal Superfund list in 1983, and after 13 years of remediation was removed in 1996. But even now, tests and monitoring continue to suggest that contamination remains.

The most recent testing was done in June in the crawl spaces—or for some homes, below their concrete foundation slab—of houses in Riverside Gardens, the subdivision that abuts the landfill. Thirty-one homes were tested. In four of those homes, the levels of chemicals detected in the crawl spaces were high enough to pose a health risk if the same levels were present inside the home. The EPA notes that usually, there’s some reduction of chemicals from crawl space to indoor air.

In five houses, levels were elevated, but didn’t exceed the EPA’s criteria for long-term health risks. In all, eight homes will undergo further testing.

The chemicals detected include chloroform, benzene, 1,3 butadiene, 1,2-dichloroethane and 1,4-dichlorobenzene. These are all chemicals that have been detected in the landfill, so it’s possible the chemicals are migrating through the soil and onto private residential property. But EPA Project Manager Donna Seadler said there are other potential sources of all these chemicals, too—like chlorinated water, cigarette smoking, mothballs and dry cleaning chemicals.

She said more testing is needed to determine both the sources of the chemicals and whether the levels present indoors are high enough to pose health risks.

“We’ll go back and look at the data and be able to compare with the three different locations that the samples are being taken, trying to get a feel for whether it is truly something coming from the landfill and whether it’s something that needs to be addressed in their homes,” she said.

Residents in Riverside Gardens have been concerned for years about the potential health effects of living next to Lees Lane. Many have anecdotal evidence of high instances of illnesses like cancer and kidney disease in people living near the site.

Seadler said there are clearly lingering problems at Lees Lane. The gas collection system meant to keep chemicals in the landfill was installed sometime before 1983, and it’s not working.

“I wouldn’t say that they’ve been worried about nothing because we know that the gas collection system is not working, so there is potential for migration off-site when that happens,” Seadler said. “So they do have some reason to be concerned. And then hopefully this will give us a direction and let us know one way or the other which way things need to go.”

She said once the EPA has the data, they can begin working on rounding up the numerous companies that disposed of waste in Lees Lane over the years, and determine who will pay to fix the problem.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Assignment Editor.