Former fireworks, munitions factory in Cordova may be added to Superfund cleanup list


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A former fireworks factory that operated in Cordova during World War II may be added to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Priorities List.

Sites on the Superfund list pose significant human health and environmental risk due to contamination, the agency says. Those with the most risk are prioritized to receive federal funding for cleanup, to return blighted properties to productive use.

The proposed Superfund site in Cordova was home to National Fireworks, a former manufacturer of flares, grenades, bombs and large caliber rounds for the United States Army and Navy from 1942-45.

The 260-acre site is bordered by Macon Road on the north and Gray’s Creek to the east. It was redeveloped as an industrial park in 1986.

The EPA said chemicals were mixed and burned at the site during its period of operation. Metals and chlorinated solvent contamination were identified in the soils and groundwater on the site, and contaminants were found at an adjacent property undergoing cleanup, the agency said.

The EPA said the site was contaminated with trichloroethene, tetrachloroethene, dichloroethene, vinyl chloride, lead and mercury. A plume of contaminants had migrated near a wellfield that supplies drinking water to 79,000 people.

Sarah Houston with the group Protect Our Aquifer says ingesting toxic chemicals is a real possibility if the chemicals continue their path underground to a nearby MLGW wellfield.

“We do know that water has been moving to those wells because as they’re pumping, they’re pulling water from the areas all around it,” Houston said.

As far back as 2001, the groundwater at the site was testing positive for toxins.  Experts say it would be hard to pick worse location, given how easy it would be for contaminated groundwater to reach the aquifer, which supplies the city’s drinking water.

“That is where that protective clay above it goes absent and therefore it creates a more direct connection between the surface and the aquifer itself,” said University of Memphis professor Brian Waldron.

 Once the National Fireworks site is listed on the NPL, the government will begin a comprehensive study and cleanup work, EPA Acting Region 4 Administrator John Blevins said in a news release.

“By adding sites to the Superfund NPL, we are helping to ensure that more communities living near the nation’s most serious uncontrolled or abandoned releases of contamination have the protection they deserve,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said.

A total of 13 sites have been proposed as additions to the EPA’s Superfund list. The National Fireworks site in Cordova is the only site located in the Memphis area or Mid-South region. There are 10 Superfund sites in Shelby County listed in the EPA’s database.

The EPA says the program is credited for significant reductions in both birth defects and blood-lead levels among children living near sites, and research has shown residential property values increase up to 24 percent within three miles of sites after cleanup.

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