No toxic waste detected in south Atlanta school’s soils, EPA says

Students are dropped off at Crawford W. Long Middle School Wednesday morning, January 26, 2022. The Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency order involving an Atlanta metal processing facility, citing the “imminent and substantial endangerment” its hazardous waste releases may pose to the public and the environment. The facility, run by TAV Holdings Inc., backs up to Crawford W. Long Middle School in the Glenrose Heights neighborhood in south Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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Students are dropped off at Crawford W. Long Middle School Wednesday morning, January 26, 2022. The Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency order involving an Atlanta metal processing facility, citing the “imminent and substantial endangerment” its hazardous waste releases may pose to the public and the environment. The facility, run by TAV Holdings Inc., backs up to Crawford W. Long Middle School in the Glenrose Heights neighborhood in south Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Agency says it plans to collect more samples around scrap metal plant, including air monitoring

The Environmental Protection Agency found no toxic pollutants in the soils of a middle school during its preliminary investigation into the spread of hazardous waste from a nearby scrap metal processing plant, an agency spokesperson confirmed.

Crawford W. Long Middle School is located directly behind a facility run by TAV Holdings Inc. In an emergency order issued by the EPA in early January, the agency said waste escaping from the plant could pose an “imminent and substantial” danger to people and the environment.

Samples from the school and nearby creek were collected on January 17, according to EPA spokesperson Davina Marraccini.

The EPA’s testing did find contaminants are entering the creek that snakes between the facility and the middle school. The unnamed tributary connects to the South River.

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An unnamed tributary (foreground) that runs between the TAV Holdings site and the back of Crawford W. Long Middle School (background) is shown. EPA analysis shows pollutants from the TAV site are entering the creek, which connects to the South River.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

An unnamed tributary (foreground) that runs between the TAV Holdings site and the back of Crawford W. Long Middle School (background) is shown. EPA analysis shows pollutants from the TAV site are entering the creek, which connects to the South River.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
An unnamed tributary (foreground) that runs between the TAV Holdings site and the back of Crawford W. Long Middle School (background) is shown. EPA analysis shows pollutants from the TAV site are entering the creek, which connects to the South River.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The pollutants found in the creek are heavy metals similar to those the agency detected in automobile scrap residue on the TAV site, Marraccini said. While analysis is still ongoing to confirm exactly how high levels of specific metals are in the creek, Marraccini confirmed preliminary data showed concentrations were above expected levels.

As part of their initial investigation into TAV, EPA inspectors collected samples on and off its property in October 2021, which showed lead concentrations that were well above the agency’s regulatory limits.

One sample taken from the creek contained lead concentrations that were more than 13 times higher than what the EPA deems safe for residential soils. Lead exposure has been linked to a host of serious health issues, including developmental delays in children.

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Marraccini said the EPA has plans for further testing in the surrounding neighborhood, including air testing. More soil samples will be collected from nearby Empire Park and on a parcel next door to where TAV stored piles of waste. It’s currently being developed as a residential property.

Fletcher Sams, the executive director of the Altamaha Riverkeeper, said he was not surprised that pollutants were found in the creek, but was glad they were not detected in the school’s soils. His organization conducted its own testing around the site last summer in conjunction with Emory University researchers.

“The worst-case scenario of the contamination being on the school grounds was our greatest fear, and we’re very relieved that’s not the case,” Sams said.

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A waste pile is shown on one of several sites run by TAV Holdings Inc. on Wednesday, January 26, 2022. The Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency order in January 2022 against the facility, saying hazardous waste releases from the site may threaten the public and the environment.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

A waste pile is shown on one of several sites run by TAV Holdings Inc. on Wednesday, January 26, 2022. The Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency order in January 2022 against the facility, saying hazardous waste releases from the site may threaten the public and the environment.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
A waste pile is shown on one of several sites run by TAV Holdings Inc. on Wednesday, January 26, 2022. The Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency order in January 2022 against the facility, saying hazardous waste releases from the site may threaten the public and the environment.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The details of the agency’s findings so far will be shared in a virtual public meeting that the EPA is hosting next Tuesday at 6 p.m. Representatives from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration also will present details of an investigation into work safety issues at the TAV plant. State environmental and public health officials will be in attendance to answer questions.

A TAV spokesperson confirmed the company’s facility is continuing to operate and process materials as the investigation continues, but said the plant is not receiving any new scrap metal.

“All required permitting is either in place or underway, and TAV Holdings is currently in communications with EPA and is working to address their concerns,” a TAV spokesperson said via email. “As discussions continue and move to involve a remediation plan, TAV will comply and execute as required to remediate the affected areas.”