The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

S. Heather Duncan

iiif service gmd gmd390 g3902 g3902g np000243 full pct 12.5 0 defaultMany climate-change related issues have appeared since publication of this vintage map of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Library of Congress

Invasive insects are among the vanguard of noticeable climate changes in America’s most-visited national park

GATLINBURG Ants scurry beneath the carpet of last year’s leaves in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The native ants are busy spreading the seeds of violets and bloodroot, preparing a new carpet of spring wildflowers to draw thousands of visitors.

But the local insects aren’t alone under there. They have become prey to venomous Asian needle ants that also prowl the leaf litter.

These invaders dine on termites, other ants and insects, while stealing habitat from them. Unlike invasive fire ants, needle ants can live in pristine forests and build large colonies with hundreds of queens. But like fire ants, needle ants have a painful sting that can trigger an allergic reaction. 

Climate change is expected to make it easier for invasive species like needle ants to upset the delicate balance of this temperate rainforest full of rare plants and animals. That’s just one example.

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boys and girls club before and afterThis is a possible result of ORNL/KCDC energy efficiency improvements set for Knoxville public housing funded by a Department of Energy grant. The project will include the Boys & Girls Club.  © 2016 urban design association

Energy-efficiency upgrades based on ORNL walls set for Knoxville public housing

KNOXVILLE A city public housing project almost a century old is going to receive 3-D printed energy efficiency upgrades thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory will partner with Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation to retrofit eight to 12 buildings at Western Heights using 3-D printed exterior “overclad” panels equipped with heat pumps and heat recovery systems. The Boys & Girls Club building at Five Points in Morningside will receive the same treatment.

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Smokey Mountain Smelters siteAerial view (ca. 2002) of Smokey Mountain Smelters Superfund site, located between two rail lines. At left is the overpass of Maryville Pike, at right a section of Knox County Development Corporation’s Montgomery Village Apartments. The large smelter hall and a few of the apartment buildings have since been removed.  Image from TN Dept. of Health

Knoxville’s most polluted former industrial site is slated for a massive cleanup soon thanks to funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill Congress recently passed. The Smokey Mountain Smelters site in Vestal has spent more than a decade on the National Priorities List, commonly called the “Superfund” list, of the most contaminated properties in the U.S. 

The work could start within just a few months, said Rusty Kestle, Environmental Protection Agency project manager for the site. He said it’s the top priority in the Southeast for the infrastructure funding because it’s among the most affordable and ready for action.

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IMG 9550The Montgomery Village public housing complex in South Knoxville is separated only by railroad tracks from the Smoky Mountain Smelters Superfund site (and the Witherspoon dump site).  S. Heather Duncan/Hellbender Press

A better use of the SMS/Witherspoon properties in Vestal may be constrained by toxic legacy and uncertain ownership

An imminent cleanup of a Superfund site in Vestal could pave the way for redevelopment and new life for the highly polluted property. But its future is complicated by muddy ownership and contradictory visions for its use.

The Smoky Mountain Smelters company left behind soil, groundwater and surface water pollution when it shuttered in 1994. But federal infrastructure funding is now slated to finish off a cleanup begun by the federal Environmental Agency at the Maryville Pike tract. Groundwater contamination below the surface is the most significant remaining problem. 

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