That dirt, as has been well-documented, was often contaminated with PCBs and lead, byproducts of the city’s industrial history. The saga of this part of Anniston’s past is both lengthy and instructive, a sign of man’s ability to repair the damage of his mistakes. We can be thankful cleanup efforts have transformed Anniston’s contaminated neighborhoods into livable, safe areas in which front yards no longer contain deadly chemicals.
That said, it’s deeply disturbing to hear that tests finished this week on ditches in west Anniston may find new pockets of pollution that will need remediation.
We’ve long understood that the amount of industrial pollution that occurred in Anniston during the 20th century may mean the city could never locate and remove every inch of contaminated soil. Likewise, we’ve championed the fact that more than $3.2 billion has been spent on cleaning Anniston during the last decade, a figure dominated by the cost of the Army’s chemical-weapons incinerator that cleansed the city of its cache of aging, leaking Cold War-era munitions.
It’s a fact: Anniston is an improved city today because of the remediation efforts of the last decade. It is not the contaminated Model City of yesteryear.
Nevertheless, Wednesday’s story in The Star raised a troubling question about the potential of lingering PCBs or lead pollution in the ditches of west Anniston:
Why did the Environmental Protection Agency not act more quickly on the Calhoun County Commission’s repeated requests to test the ditches?
The scenario described by County Commissioner Eli Henderson is deeply disturbing, especially considering Anniston’s long-established history of having PCBs and lead in the soil of its western neighborhoods. Henderson says the EPA, which conducted the testing on the ditches, drug its feet on multiple requests to test Anniston’s ditches, which could lead to the possible re-pollution of now-clean areas if the ditches aren’t cleared of debris and repaired.
“They kept saying it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, and it never happened. We’ve had to push them hard,” Henderson said.
We hesitate to think that this chapter of Anniston’s pollution story is merely the beginning of something larger. Are there other areas on the west side like these ditches that also need testing? That might be a question asked sooner than later.
For now, our focus is on the impending results of this latest round of EPA testing. City and county leaders should now be discussing their plan should the tests unearth more dirty soil within our midst.