Environment

Sandy Griffith long ago gave up on growing vegetables at her home in Butchertown. When the wind kicks up, concrete dust from her neighbor blows into her backyard, settling on her patio furniture and plants.

Her neighbor’s dust caused Griffith health problems, and as a result she’s basically ceded her backyard to the dust, Griffith said. She’s complained about it for decades. 

She’s not the only one.

Louisville’s Air Pollution Control District — the local regulator — has issued about 20 violations to Griffith’s neighbor, concrete manufacturer Advance Ready Mix, since it opened in the early 1990’s.

This summer Advance Ready Mix applied for a permit to expand its facilities, but withdrew its application after the community began to push back. Neighbors cited decades of complaints and nuisance violations for the fugitive dust that blows into the neighborhood.

And while the dust problems won’t be getting worse, Griffith doesn’t expect they’ll be getting better anytime soon either — she and other neighbors have complained for decades to little effect.

“We have to hold them accountable. They can’t just bow out of this permit then tell themselves ‘oh groovy, peachy keen’, now we can just go forward with everything,” Griffith said.

Advance Ready Mix declined multiple interview requests for this story.

Dust In The Streets

On a sunny day in September, Griffith took WFPL News on a tour around her block past Advance Ready Mix. The concrete company is located on E. Water Street, nearby the new soccer stadium and only about a block north of the street Griffith lives on.

Dirt and gravel have completely covered the public street outside the company. Tall, dry piles of concrete aggregate sit next to the road. Beside them, sprinklers shoot water into the public street to try and wash the dust off passing trucks so as to not track it farther into the neighborhoods, though they often do, Griffith said. The cement dust then clogs sewer drains and fills the gutters, hardening as it gets wet, she said.

“I should be able to grow vegetables in my yard and not have them covered in aggregate and fly ash,” Griffith said.

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

Sandy Griffith standing in an alley beside Advance Ready Mix near her home in Butchertown.

Concrete mix contains sand, aggregate and a small amount of fly ash— a byproduct of burning coal that can contain carcinogenic heavy metals, said APCD Director Keith Talley. In the world of air pollution regulations, the dust that escapes works sites is described as “fugitive dust.”

It’s also a type of pollution referred to as particulate matter. Basically, any small particles, be it car exhaust, smoke or dust, is unhealthy and can increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks, according to the American Lung Association.

“Bottom line, my glands will swell up and stuff, I have a physical reaction to this and I’m not the only person,” Griffith said. “We have a lot of children (who) live along the way. It’s not like the particulate stops at someone’s home. It doesn’t.”

Air Quality Violations

APCD has received dozens of similar complaints about Advance Ready Mix — most highlighting the same problems. Their records of complaints begin in 1993.

“Complainant states that Advanced Concrete Co. on Water Street down in Butchertown area is creating a lot of dust and mud in the neighborhood from their plant and the trucks that come in and out of their property. It has become a real nuisance to the local community,” according to a 1993 report.

City air quality regulators have issued about 20 violations to Advance Ready Mix over the years. Some of those included small fines. Then in 2014, APCD took another look at its operations and required the cement company to put in place a new dust plan to help reduce emissions, Talley said.

For a few years, the complaints subsided, but they kicked back up again in 2019 and APCD again investigated, issuing another notice of violation and a fine of about $3,700 for failing to follow the dust plan, Talley said.

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

APCD is now sending compliance officers past the site two to three times a week to make sure they are following the guidelines, he said. Talley is also encouraging residents to notify APCD if the company continues to violate regulations.

“We follow up on every complaint that we get from the community so if they call and say they are experiencing a dust issue, a compliance officer will go out and check,” Talley said.

But the fact remains that Advance Ready Mix is legally permitted to emit up to 25 tons of particulate matter, though Talley said the operation emits a fraction of that amount.   

People often assume that it’s the city’s job to eliminate pollution if it’s affecting their home or neighborhood, but that’s not the case, and it’s all in the name: the Air Pollution Control District. Companies are legally allowed to pollute to a certain limit, and it’s the responsibility of environmental regulatory agencies to make sure companies comply with those rules.

Still, Griffith said that APCD could do more to ensure that Advance Ready Mix follows the regulations that are on the books.

 “And we have absolute evidence that has not happened. So I’m happy about the permit, but it’s not over yet, we are still going to be affected by this company and we still have a long way to go,” she said. 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.