Environment

A Kentucky proposal to study the background levels of certain chemicals in urban soil has gotten funding from the federal government.

The study will look at the background levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, in urban areas. PAHs are a combination of chemicals that occur naturally, and are also man made.

“If you’re in an urban area that has quite a bit of industry around, your typical levels out in the environment will be higher for PAHs and lead, that’s just something you know going into it,” said Kentucky Division of Waste Management Assistant Director Tim Hubbard.

PAHs are products of the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. They can come from cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust or grilling meat. But they are also commonly found at contaminated industrial sites.

At sites such as the former Black Leaf Chemical plant and the Lees Lane Landfill in Louisville, it’s been a challenge to figure out whether the PAHs are from past industrial activity or just by virtue of being located in a city, Hubbard said.

“If you find these same chemicals that are out there in the environment, then it’s very difficult to determine first of all, who’s responsible for this material, who should clean it up, [the] overall extent of the occurrence of the chemical,” Hubbard said.

“It causes some difficulties in trying to sort through all that.”

The new study will attempt to figure out the background levels of PAHs, lead and arsenic in soil in cities throughout the Southeast. The Environmental Protection Agency will give $174,000 over two years to the study, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2016.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Assignment Editor.