Environment

 

Federal government officials are in Louisville this week to take air samples in eight homes near the Lees Lane Landfill. The crawl spaces of 31 houses were tested earlier this summer, and levels of toxic gases were high enough in eight of them to warrant further testing.

Lees Lane is a former Superfund site in Southwest Louisville. Until it was closed in the 1970s, it received three decades worth of trash and toxic waste from Louisville homes and businesses. Despite years of remediation, tests have shown that issues remain and residents in nearby Riverside Gardens are concerned about what they may have been exposed to over the years.

Today, Environmental Protection Agency officials and contractors were in Riverside Gardens setting up polished stainless steel canisters to take air samples. These are called Summa canisters, and use vacuums to draw in air. They’ll take a 24-hour sample, and then officials will retrieve the canister tomorrow and analyze the air it collected.

During the initial crawl space air sampling, five potentially dangerous chemicals were detected: 1,2-dichloroethane, 1,3 butadiene, chloroform, 1,4-dichlorobenzene and benzene. These chemicals could have migrated from the landfill, or they could have come from other sources, like cigarettes or mothballs.

“There were several homes that were right above potential levels of concerns if they were in the indoor air,” EPA project manager Donna Seadler said. “And then several that were approaching those levels. So, because they were approaching the levels and some were above the levels, we want to go into those homes and see what is in the indoor air.”

Seadler said there’s a difference between the EPA’s screening levels and risk levels. A chemical might be present in a high enough amount to justify taking a closer look, but still not come anywhere close to a level that would pose a danger for human health. The EPA found chloroform in several crawlspaces, and one concentration was as high as 8.5 ug/m3. But even if this level was in the indoor air—not just under the house—Seadler said it’s still far below the 100 ug/m3 that’s considered to be carcinogenic if someone’s exposed to it for 30 years.

It will likely take more than eight weeks to get the results of the indoor air sampling. Besides determining whether people in these homes are being exposed to chemicals, officials also need to figure out if the chemicals in question are coming from the landfill. Seadler said the EPA will take soil gas samples—measuring the gases present in the soil—in the neighborhood next month. But the landfill’s soil gas collection system is known to be faulty, and she’s already working on getting the companies that disposed of waste in Lees Lane years ago to pay for a new system.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.