Emergency Response teams from EPA entered the A.K. Stewart Science Center Friday at the Knoxville College in Knoxville, TN, inspecting thousands of containers of chemicals that have been inside the building since it was reportedly abandoned more than 5 years ago. On Monday June 24th an EPA contractor began removing the chemicals from the building and packaging them for disposal.
The beginning of this event was more than a year ago when Daygo McBee arrived at the PSC Scrap metal yard on Central Street in Knoxville with an old laboratory instrument. Upon entry to the PSC year, radiation detectors went off and it was discovered that the instrument, probably a gas chromatograph, contained a small radioactive source. Officials were notified and the instrument tracked back to Knoxville College.
The exact sequence of events have not been disclosed, but in early June 2014, the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation performed and “initial evaluation” of the A.K. Stewart Science Center at the college. Upon discovery of “thousands of containers of hazardous and flammable chemicals” in the building, the EPA was called in on an emergency basis. The emergency response team members from EPA investigated the building on June 20, 2014 and found numerous leaking containers of chemicals. The following Monday, it was reported that an EPA contractor was on site “crushing hundreds of small containers of unknown chemicals” into drums for disposal, a report that this writer finds highly unlikely.
College of Knoxville
Founded in 1875, Knoxville College is a private, church-related, four-year, liberal arts institution providing a challenging educational experience for students who have been afforded little advantage within society. Knoxville College provides its students, regardless of their backgrounds, with a broad education in the arts and sciences.
The Mistakes and The LessonWhen the decision was made to close this building, provision needed to be made on how to handle all of the chemicals and should have started a year before the actual closure. I suspect they realized that it was going to be a very expensive process and it got pushed to the back shelf. Then it got pushed to the back room. Pretty soon, it was like the building was invisible. They walked by it every day, but the intractable problem just faded away…until something happened.
When a material is abandoned, whether on some back road or in a dumpster or locked up inside a building, it becomes a waste. The generator of the waste is required to make a determination: is this an EPA regulated Hazardous Waste. If it is hazardous, then there are many different requirements that the generator must fulfill depending upon their generator status (large or small quantity generators). You can’t just turn off the lights, lock the doors, and forget about it.