News » The Fly-By

Fire Fight

A company on Presidents Island plans to install a radioactive waste incinerator. A local environmental group is trying to stop them.



Burn Out: Radioactive material has been stored on Presidents Island for years, but if all goes as planned for the Radiological Assistance Consulting and Engineering (R.A.C.E.) facility at 2550 Channel Avenue, it'll soon be burned there too. The company has received a permit from the health department to install a low-level radioactive waste incinerator, but it has yet to get an operating permit from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

The incinerator would burn carcasses of research animals, lubricants and liquids from nuclear power plants, byproducts from industrial facilities, and scraps of wood and plastic contaminated with radiation. The materials would be destroyed, but radioactive ash would be left behind.

"This is a state-of-the-art incinerator, and almost nothing escapes into the air. It's not like the old incinerators," says Billy Freeman from TDEC's Inspection Enforcement Division of Radiological Health.

Calls to R.A.C.E. were not returned by press time.

Watch your Waste: Although the installation permit was issued in February 2003, a local environmental group recently learned about the incinerator and is now trying to prevent the facility from operating it.

The Riverview Collaborative Community Association, along with members of the Sierra Club and state representative Barbara Cooper (D-Memphis), recently held its first R.A.C.E.-related meeting to discuss ways to fight the facility. TDEC employees were present to field questions about 13 violations issued to the company during a September inspection.

"[The violations] demonstrate to me that they don't need to enlarge their operations with an incinerator that will be burning radioactive material," says Rita Harris, a member of the Riverview Collaborative and the Sierra Club.

Freeman says that the violations, most of which involve labeling or storage issues, were minor and did not pose any health or safety risk to the community. TDEC is currently working with the company on a weekly basis to help clear up these issues.

Riverview is now exploring legal action against R.A.C.E. Harris says the situation is an environmental-justice issue and a safety threat to nearby food-processing plants.

"The Riverview, Boxtown, and French Fort communities closest to Presidents Island are historically African-American neighborhoods," says Harris. "The fact that this community is already overburdened with polluting facilities should raise a red flag with TDEC and Memphis & Shelby County Pollution Control."

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