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Old Charcoal Plant Blamed For Illness

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Bill Goodreau speaking with NewsChannel 5 investigative reporter Ben Hall Bill Goodreau speaking with NewsChannel 5 investigative reporter Ben Hall
EPA environmental scientist Loften Carr EPA environmental scientist Loften Carr
Janie Corbin, who has ovarian cancer, lives close to the site Janie Corbin, who has ovarian cancer, lives close to the site

A NewsChannel 5 Investigation is raising questions about whether an old charcoal plant is making people sick.

The federal government said it's safe to live near one of the state's most poluuted sites.

"They just overlook us sometimes," said Lee Horbeak who lives on Oak Hill Road in Wrigley.

He lives the site for the old Wrigley Charcoal plant

"Mostly everybody around here has something wrong with them," he said.

He said people are sick all around him.  He blames the plant, which produced charcoal and iron. At one point it was under control of the U.S. military. It closed in 1966.

Today, the site is a mess. A plastics-recycling company operates on top of the property, but the problem is underground. Toxic waste from the old plant contaminated the groundwater and the soil. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now claims the "site does not pose a significant health risk." But, in 1988, the EPA declared the site "an eminent and substantial danger." Since then the EPA has cleaned up some areas, but they also discovered new contamination.

"I felt betrayed so long I don't even have a feeling about it anymore," said Bill Goodreau, who owns 35 acres beside the site.

The tattered trailers are all that's left of his dream to develop the property. He said there's still toxic tar on his property   Tar is a dangerous byproduct from the plant the EPA has removed from several areas near his property.

He said his spring has residue as a result of buried toxic waste.

When asked if he got sick from drinking the water, Goodreau said, "Right."

He also said the cutting grass posed was hazardous because he "inhaled major amounts of dust because we bulldozed it twice."

In 2006, he was diagnosed with toxic metal poisoning.  He now takes more than 12 pills a day. 

Doctors found high levels of arsenic, mercury and manganese in his system.  EPA tests also revealed all of those are present at the site.

When asked if it dangerous to live near that superfund site, EPA environmental scientist Loften Carr said, "No, based on all the data we've collected to date current conditions, it is safe to live near that site."

Superfund refers to the government's program "to clean up the nation's uncontrolled hazardous waste sites," according to the EPA's Web site.

Carr is in charge of cleaning up the site.  Twenty years ago, the EPA placed the plant site on its superfund list.

 "Based on what we know we don't think Mr. Goodreau's problems are the result of him being on site," Carr said.

Dr. William Reid, Goodreau's doctor, studies cancers and their causes.

"His internal medicine problems were out of control.  I felt pretty comfortable that he got polluted," he said.

Reid questions how the EPA said no one has gotten sick from the site.

"I wonder whether they have actually gone out and looked," Reid said.

He said Goodreau's arsenic level was four times higher than normal.

Carr said he doesn't know if Goodreau got that from the site.

"I would have to say I don't think it came from the site. You're comparing my opinion with a doctor," Carr said.

The answer is critically important to people still living near the plant. Janie Corbin has ovarian cancer.  She lives so close to the site -- there's charcoal in her garden.

"Older heads that died, they used to put gardens up. That's what we lived off of in the winter time, she said.

The EPA tested her garden in 2006 and found levels of arsenic, lead and mercury, but the EPA sent a letter saying the soil "should not result in any adverse health effects."

When asked if he felt comfortable eating food from that garden, Carr said, "Sure. You sample anybody's yard and you're going to find a lot of things you don't expect there.

But many still feel forgotten. 

"We don't have the money around here to get nothing done," Goodreau said.

After 20 years the site still isn't cleaned up and people are still getting sick.

The EPA continues regular testing in the area, but said it has no solid timetable for when the contamination will be cleared. Goodreau no longer lives in Wrigley.

There are 102 Superfund sites in Tennessee.   The federal government manages the one in Hickman County.

Most of the other Superfund sites in Tennessee are under the management of state officials.

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