EPA soothes fears over contaminated site in U of M area

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- "We're not going to end up like Flint or Detroit are we?"

That was the question on the minds of many at a meeting with the Environmental Protection Agency in the University of Memphis area Thursday night.

The federal agency held a public meeting to discuss land at the corner of Southern and Highland, a former dry cleaner now being tested for hazardous waste in the EPA's Superfund program.

“I remember when the laundry was there at Southern and Highland years ago. Now this is coming up,” resident Cherry Whittaker said.

Officials said the site had a high presence of tetrachloroethylene, a chemical left behind by Custom Cleaners, which was there from 1950 until the mid-1990s.

It can be dangerous if it gets in both the air and water.

“I live in a senior citizen high rise maybe about a half a mile from here and my concern was because of the citizens that live in the building,” Whittaker said.

“I’m in East Memphis further east than this, but we all back up to each other," Nancy Deal said. "How serious we talking about and how widespread is this?”

Experts said at first, they were worried.

"Early reports we’d heard were concerns the site is impacting drinking water,” an EPA official said at the meeting.

But they said they worked with Memphis Light Gas and Water to do testing. They found groundwater at the site had not gotten into the drinking supply.

“I feel fairly satisfied. I truly do,” Deal said.

Officials said they still had more testing to do before deciding an action plan.

Many neighbors said they left with less fears than prior to the meeting.

EPA officials also said they were gathering a case against the Custom Cleaners owner. However, they said the chemical dumping that likely took place was common for that time.