ST. LOUIS — The Carter Carburetor plant in North St. Louis City has become, by almost all accounts, a landfill of hazardous concerns since it was last operating in 1984.
During an event this morning, Congressman Lacy Clay and other local elected officials gathered to discuss finalized plans with the Environmental Protection Agency to cleanup the site during the coming years.
Clay was joined by St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks, state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, Ward 3 Alderman Freeman Bosley and several dozen audience members to announce the $30 million clean up agreement with ACF Industries — one of the previous owners of the property.
ACF Industries has worked with the EPA as early as 2005 when they entered into a settlement agreement to evaluate the area and see whether contaminates still exist — one of the several contaminant tests done throughout the years since the plant’s closing.
The EPA has determined through all of the testing that the property contains asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and trichloroethylene (TCE). Jeff Weatherford, the EPA’s site manager for the plant, said the PCBs, for example, run all the way to bedrock — approximately 20 to 25 feet below the ground — in some areas of the property, so the cleanup efforts aren’t just necessary in the on-side buildings.
Step one of the process, according to Weatherford, is the public comment period, after which the EPA will set a date for the beginning of the cleanup. The estimation by the administrator, Brooks, is that it will begin shortly after school starts. The process that will follow, including detailed descriptions of how each contaminant needs to be removed by EPA standards, is set out in the “Standard of Work” portion of the most recent Settlement Agreement.
The majority of the speeches to the public from the officials surrounded the impact of the inaction on the plant to the neighborhood children as the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club — located in the old Sportsman’s Park building on Grand Ave. — is next door. The mission of the Club is to give young children the opportunity to provide after-school programs for youth, aiming to create a positive influence in the children’s lives. The argument by supporters of this cleanup is that the change in landscape will have a positive effect on the lives of the area children.
For Clay, this agreement comes as the end of several years of work, he said, describing a meeting with President Barack Obama five years ago at which Clay said he discussed the Carter plant being a priority of his.
“What we have here at Carter Carburetor is really a symptom of a problem that we see all over the country,” Clay said. “Far too often, older, urban neighborhoods like this one with mostly minority populations are turned into toxic dumping grounds, and that kind of environmental racism is shameful and it has been going on for decades.”
Slay echoed the Congressman’s remarks, adding that this issue has been “frustrating” for him and his administration, and the agreement comes as a relief. He thanked the Congressman for his support of his hometown, as well as the other parties involved in securing the cleanup.
“To the neighbors who have driven by this, who have walked by this, who have feared that there kids were playing too close to this land, this day is for you,” he said. “You have the right to a clean and safe environment to raise your children and to create new business opportunities to create jobs.”
Ashley Jost is no longer with The Missouri Times. She worked as the executive editor for several months, and a reporter before that.