Activists demand cleanup of Dickson pollution: Dumping in poor, mostly black area 'environmental injustice,' group says

Environmental activists called on city and state officials Wednesday to clean up the “obvious case of environmental injustice” they believe led to pollution in the rural, mostly black neighborhood near the closed Dickson County landfill.
At an informational meeting in north Nashville, members of the Tennessee Coalition for Environmental Justice and a handful of residents gathered to talk about their next steps: figuring out a plan to begin cleaning up the chemicals in the groundwater and getting someone to dig up newer waste before it contributes to the contamination.
“This pollution is permanent, and there is so much saturation that this is not going to just go away,” said Bruce Wood of the environmental justice group. “We want the waste dug up, and we want to know who manufactured these chemicals … and why they’re not being held responsible.”
Wood said the landfill was built in the middle of a poor, disenfranchised and mostly black neighborhood in the 1960s. When dumping ceased in 1999, the Eno Road transfer station was built on the same site, further emphasizing the residents’ perception of being subjected to injustice.
“The landfill was operated in such a poor manner, and the people couldn’t defend themselves,” Wood said. “Now we want the diesel trucks in and out of there stopped. We need no more destruction of this area.”
Trichloroethylene, or TCE, was discovered in 1997 in a well that fed the municipal water supply. A county consultant located 14 sites in springs and wells near the landfill that may be contaminated with the metal degreaser that can cause nerve, liver or lung damage.
Dickson county and city officials have declined to comment, citing several pending lawsuits. The landfill and a defunct automotive plant to the east are the focal points of lawsuits by families who say chemical pollution in their wells made them ill.
The state has spent more than $400,000 since 2003 to investigate and clean up TCE and $455,456 more for a grant for the county to extend its water lines. It also required the county to make public water lines available to the area, a move completed in March.
The Dickson County dump was opened in the 1960s and turned into a landfill a decade later. It accepted domestic and industrial waste, and state officials have said the problems stem from the days before dumping was tightly regulated.
The TCE is dispersed throughout the limestone, but levels of contamination drop farther away from the landfill, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation officials have said.
Residents like Mary Wright, a retired nurse who lives across the street from the landfill, have been asking for a health survey to determine whether the chemicals have harmed their health.
“We’re very serious that we do need help,” Wright said. “We know many of the chemicals dumped in there cause illness and cancer. We don’t know what all has happened, but we could find out.” •

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