Environment
5:28 pm
Wed June 19, 2013

Regulators Present Plan to Clean Up Homes Near Black Leaf Site

Kentucky environmental regulators hope to begin removing contaminated soil from homes near Louisville’s former Black Leaf Chemical plant by early August.

The former Black Leaf Chemical site in the city’s Park Hill neighborhood was home to several different pesticide manufacturing plants, as well as a cooperage. In 2010, regulators discovered the site was contaminated with chemicals like pesticides, lead, and arsenic. Last year and earlier this year, soil testing on residential properties revealed that the contamination had spread to nearby yards.

Now, state and federal officials will remove about a foot of soil from each of the 69 contaminated backyards, replace it with clean soil and re-sod. Department for Environmental Protection Commissioner Bruce Scott says while all the yards showed some contamination, not all of them had levels of chemicals that exceeded what the state considers “safe.”

“We didn’t have to clean up every yard, quite honestly, if you look at it from a risk basis, but we chose to do that because we want to take a very conservative and protective approach for the people in the neighborhood there,” Scott said.

Scott and his staff presented the plan at a West Jefferson County Community Task Force meeting last night. But it wasn’t well-received by everyone. Several neighborhood residents who hadn’t had their soil tested were there, and wanted to know why.

Melvin Barnett lives on St. Louis Avenue. His property doesn’t directly touch the Black Leaf site, but is across the street. His soil hasn’t been tested.

“We have been affected here and I feel like we don’t have any representation at the table,” Barnett said. “We’re standing on our own here. Our property is devalued.”

State regulators say they might test more homes in the future, but there are issues with determining what contaminants came from the plant, and which could have come from other sources in the urban environment. Some of the chemicals—like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs—could have come from coal plants or vehicle exhaust.

University of Louisville researcher Dr. Matthew Cave is also exploring ways to test the blood of residents living near the site. He’s looking for funding to pay for tests that would reveal whether heavy metals, pesticides and PAHs are present in residents’ bodies, and could be affecting their health.

The backyard remediation on properties near Black Leaf will likely start by early August. There will be a public meeting on June 27 at St. Stephen Church (1018 South 15th Street) at 6:30pm.