Valley of the Drums

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Coordinates: 38°04′56″N 85°43′25″W / 38.082229°N 85.723625°W / 38.082229; -85.723625

The Valley of the Drums, c 1980. EPA photo.

The Valley of the Drums is a 23-acre (9.3 hectare) toxic waste site in northern Bullitt County, Kentucky, near Louisville, named after the waste-containing drums strewn across the area. It is known as one of the primary motivations for the passage of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or Superfund Act of 1980. While the widely publicized Love Canal disaster is often credited as the reason the Superfund law was passed, Love Canal activist Lois Gibbs has said that Love Canal looked like a suburban community, while "Valley of the Drums became the visualization of the problem."[1]

The site became a collection point for toxic wastes starting sometime in the 1960s. It caught the attention of state officials when some of the drums caught fire and burned for more than a week in 1966. However, at that time there were no laws to address the storage or containment of toxic wastes, and the site continued to be unregulated for another decade. In 1977, the owner (also inferred to be the primary "dumper") of the site, A.L. Taylor, died. It is unclear who owns the property today, and county tax records show that the property taxes have gone unpaid for several years.

In 1978, a KDNREP investigation of the property revealed that over 100,000 drums of waste were delivered to the site, of which 27,000 drums were buried and the remaining containers were discharged directly into pits and trenches. Over a period of time, the conditions of many of the drums on site deteriorated and the contents spilled onto the ground and were flushed into a nearby creek by storm water runoff. Frequent complaints about strong odors along the creek bed were received from adjacent property owners.

In 1979, large quantities of contaminants were carried into the creek by the spring snow melts, which caused the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to respond immediately. The EPA analyzed the property and creek and found high levels of heavy metal, polychlorinated biphenyl’s, and some 140 other chemical substances. The same year, the Environmental Protection Agency initiated an emergency clean-up of the worst of the leaking drums. Workers on the ground quickly realized that the scope of the problem was far beyond their abilities at the time, and after news of the problems there became public the site was used by members of Congress as one of the reasons the proposed Superfund law was needed.

Cleanup began at the site in 1983 and officially ended in 1990, although problems continued to be reported for many years. An environmental audit of the site in 2003 found PCBs in the sediment surrounding the area, and further testing was ordered.

In December, 2008, EPA inspectors found about four dozen rusted metal drums on land just outside the part of the dump that it capped and fenced in the 1980s, including a portion of Jefferson Memorial Forest. New cleanup work is being considered at the site as of December 15, 2008.

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