At least 10 facilities in or around Davidson County along the Cumberland River are storing chemicals that land them on the EPA list of companies that hold chemicals that could pose a threat to human health and the environment.
After a chemical spill from a company along the Elk River in Charleston, WV, resulted in hundreds of thousands of people losing their water, the Channel 4 I-Team started looking at what's being stored along the Cumberland River, the major source of water for many in Middle Tennessee.
The EPA's Toxics Release Inventory shows facilities housing chemicals along the Cumberland River, several clustered around downtown Nashville.
If there was a spill at any of these facilities, the chemicals would float downstream to customers with the Harpeth Valley Water District.
The Channel 4 I-Team's examination of the TRI shows fewer facilities upstream of Nashville's water supply.
On the TRI, the description of one of the facilities upstream of Nashville reads, "Facility has the potential to discharge toxic chemicals to the water."
If an accident happened, and chemicals leaked into the river and into Nashville's water treatment facilities, would we have our water turned off?
"If it got into our intake? Yes," said Sonia Harvat, spokeswoman for the Metro Water Department.
Harvat said the key is knowing immediately if a spill has occurred.
"We watch any industry upstream from our intake that could store anything that could be harmful," Harvat said.
Harvat said Metro Water monitors the river for irregularities, including constant sampling of the water.
Still, the city must rely on these facilities to report leaks. That's been a big question in Charleston: why did city officials find out so late that there had been a spill? By the time the city knew about the leak, the chemicals were already in their water treatment facility.
That's why Harvat said Metro Water and other state agencies keep visual observations of the river and sample constantly.
"So if they [facilities storing chemicals] don't report it, we are sampling our source waters so we know what's going on in the river," Harvat said.
John McFadden with the Tennessee Environmental Council said he worries about so many chemicals being stored right on our water supply.
"We need to be ever vigilant on how we manage those facilities that are containing those toxic substances," McFadden said.
Harvat said Metro has two water treatment facilities so if chemicals did in fact leak into one and would have to be shut down, the city could sustain on the other for some time.
Harpeth Valley has just one water treatment facility and their spokesman said if a spill was hazardous, they would shut down the water intake for a few hours and be able to rely on treated water they keep in reserve in reservoirs.
The Channel 4 I-Team has asked the state for records on what exactly is stored in these facilities and if any have had leaks. State officials have not supplied the data.
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