The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia
Thursday, 08 June 2023 15:05

Work is under way to clean up infamous South Knoxville Superfund site

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EPA finally capping toxic waste at South Knoxville Superfund site

KNOXVILLE — The Environmental Protection Agency this week began putting a protective cap on the former Smokey Mountain Smelters site to control its pollution.

The EPA said the cap will protect nearby waterways by stopping stormwater runoff from combining with the toxic waste on site. Engineers and workers began the project the week of July 6.

By cutting it off from the stormwater, the EPA hopes to stop toxins from flowing away either through groundwater or runoff. The site is off Maryville Pike in South Knoxville. Caleb Properties purchased two of the site’s three parcels at the Delinquent Property Tax Sale on May 16. EPA is building the cap and storing the waste in the area Caleb Properties purchased. The agency stated Caleb Properties committed to “allocating a portion of the development of the site for community benefit,” and they’ll still have to work with the EPA’s remedy for cleanup. 

Hellbender Press has reported on the cleanup sites and environmental legacies.

EPA Remedial Project Manager Peter Johnson has said the dross and saltcakes left over from old smelting processes react with water, releasing heat and ammonia gas. Smoky Mountain Smelting’s toxins have flowed through groundwater into a tributary of Flenniken Branch. Vestal community residents who live nearby have raised concerns about that water reaching the fishing areas at I.C. King Park and eventually the Tennessee River. In 2010, the Smoky Mountain Smelting site ended up on the federal Superfund list due to its contaminated soil, sediments and surface water.

The capped area was one of Smokey Mountain Smelters’ waste piles, but Johnson stated in an email it now includes waste from another waste pile that was on the site. The EPA, not Caleb Properties is leading the cleanup of waste into this new capped landfill. However, Johnson said Caleb Properties can’t do anything that breaks into the capped area, and it can’t dig any wells for the site’s groundwater.

Johnson stated the EPA will publish requirements on how to maintain the cap after workers finish its construction. The EPA will also have to review every five years to make sure its remedy still protects human health and the environment.

The cap will consist of a gas collection layer, Geosynthetic Clay Liner (GCL), a polyethylene liner, geosynthetic drainage layer, 18 inches of clean cover soil, six inches of topsoil, and “seed and/or mulch.” Johnson stated.

Johnson at a February meeting, said he and his agency wanted development on the site, even with the waste still on it.

“We don’t want this to remain fenced and unused,” he said. 

If you want to reach out to the EPA about the Smokey Mountain Smelters project contact Johnson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; (470) 261-5868, or Marjorie Thomas, community involvement coordinator at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; (919) 407 9721.

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Last modified on Friday, 09 June 2023 18:22
Published in News, Earth