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After contamination caused delays, demolition set to finally begin at Foote Homes

MEMPHIS, Tenn.  -- It's the final days for Foote Homes.

Meanwhile, WREG continues to learn more about the complex' past and how it's impacting the future.

"There are contaminants that have some carcinogenic quality to them," said Memphis Housing Authority Executive Director Marcia Lewis.

Lewis is talking about the results of further testing conducted on the soil at Foote Homes, which revealed among several things, contaminants linked to cancer.

WREG asked, "So, was that worse than you all initially thought it was?"

Lewis replied, "I think it confirmed what we suspected."

NewsChannel 3 obtained a copy of one of the environmental reports and it includes words like "arsenic" and "PCBs".

Tests showed several contaminants in the soil and ground water.

While some results didn't exceed legal limits, there were hot spots with serious toxins.

Lewis says most locations were in grassy areas, away from the homes, but one was near a playground.

"The playgrounds there we wanted to donate them to the parks department but unfortunately, because of the way they're anchored into the ground, that has some contamination in it."

Lewis said the hot spots revealed contamination anywhere from two to four feet beneath the ground.

WREG first reported on the contamination last September, after residents got letters warning them not to dig in the ground during their moves.

"Now I got to wonder about my health, what's going on," said resident Sandra Gilley during that September interview.

WREG has also inquired about the potential health consequences for people who used to live at Foote Homes.

MHA said experts told them previous residents should not have been impacted.

However, there has been an impact on demolition.

Lewis said, "This created a significant delay."

Lewis says after learning more about the contamination, they entered into a voluntary plan with state environmental regulators.

"We told them, here's what we found and here's what we're going to do to ensure that not only we do this work safely, but we make this a safe place to live."

So, Lewis says that additional planning has taken extra time.

Lewis explained how workers have to be cautious with waste removal. She said how things are removed and where they eventually go, all makes a difference.

"For example, lights that may have mercury in them, the thermostats, some of the components of heating and air systems."

The environmental report outlined how soil should be handled. For example, some will be removed, while certain areas will be covered by a protective layer.

Despite the delays, Lewis says they're still on target for final completion in 2021.

The fence surrounding Foote Homes will come down in the next two weeks and a construction barrier will go up in its place.

Lewis said, "You will see all of the demolition, removal of everything from the site, the preparation of the ground."

While South City remains on track according to MHA, WREG is continuing to gather more information about the contamination and its potential effect on former residents.

MHA plans to hold a commemorative ceremony for Foote Homes on May 30th, prior to the start of demolition.

According to Lewis, demolition will run throughout the remainder of 2017 with new construction set to start in 2018.