EPA: Chemical cleanup at Knoxville College could take weeks

on December 01 2014

Building Full of Chemicals Abandoned for 5 Years at Kentucky College

Emergency Response teams from EPA entered the A.K. Stewart Science Center Friday at the Knoxville College in Knoxville, TN, inspecting thousands of containers of chemicals that have been inside the building since it was reportedly abandoned more than 5 years ago. On Monday June 24th an EPA contractor began removing the chemicals from the building and packaging them for disposal.  

The beginning of this event was more than a year ago when Daygo McBee arrived at the PSC Scrap metal yard on Central Street in Knoxville with an old laboratory instrument. Upon entry to the PSC year, radiation detectors went off and it was discovered that the instrument, probably a gas chromatograph, contained a small radioactive source. Officials were notified and the instrument tracked back to Knoxville College.

The exact sequence of events have not been disclosed, but in early June 2014, the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation performed and “initial evaluation” of the A.K. Stewart Science Center at the college. The state called in the US EPA on an emergency basis upon discovery of “thousands of containers of hazardous and flammable chemicals” in the building. The emergency response team members from EPA investigated the building on June 20, 2014 and found numerous leaking containers of chemicals. The following Monday, it was reported that an EPA contractor was on site “crushing hundreds of small containers of unknown chemicals” into drums for disposal, a report that this writer finds highly unlikely.


College of Knoxville
Founded in 1875, Knoxville College is a private, church-related, four-year, liberal arts institution providing a challenging educational experience for students who have been afforded little advantage within society. Knoxville College provides its students with a broad education in the arts and sciences, regardless of their backgrounds.


The Mistakes and the Lesson
When the college initially decided to close this building, they should have made provision on how to handle all of the excess chemicals and should have started a year before the actual closure. The administrators probably did realize that it was going to be a very expensive process and pushed the project to the back shelf. Then it got pushed to the back room. Pretty soon, it was as if the building was invisible. They walked by it every day, but the intractable problem just faded away…until something happened.

When a material is abandoned, whether on some back road or in a dumpster or locked up inside a building, it becomes a waste. The owner of the waste is required to make a determination: is this an EPA regulated Hazardous Waste. If it is hazardous, then there are many different requirements to fulfill depending upon the amount of waste to be disposed of. You cannot just turn off the lights, lock the doors, and forget about it.



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