Valley of the Drums (Superfnd Site)


By Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida, FL


The “Valley of the Drums” is a toxic waste site located in Bullitt County, Kentucky, in Brooks, Kentucky, 12 miles south of the major city of Louisville, Kentucky. The site is a toxic landfill location covering 13 acres first discovered by authorizes (the Kentucky Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection; KDNREP) in 1967. The site was littered with full and empty metal containers of hazardous waste, and pits where the contents of hazardous waste barrels had been emptied. Open pits were employed to dump industrial materials and burn them. The owner of the site was identified as A. L. Taylor. It is estimated that the site contained 17,000 drums of hazardous waste.

Though discovered in 1967, the site continued to operate until 1977, the year the owner of the site passed away. Efforts to control continued operations at the site were hampered by the nature of environmental regulations in effect at the time the toxic dump site was discovered. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency was not created until 1970, and there was no federal regulations related to sites such as this before that time. Provisions from the Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, affected the site, but this law was not passed until five years after the site had been discovered.

After several years of attempting to address conditions at the site, KNDREP reported the existence of the site to the US EPA in 1979 – or 12 years after the site was first discovered. The US EPA examined the site and found it was in violation of section 311 of the Clean Water Act (CWA). EPA organized an emergency response to clean up the site and contain the effects of the toxins. Initial remediation efforts by US EPA and KNDREP removed about 75% of the toxic waste drums, and further remediation of the site was order in 1981. Following that remediation effort, US EPA reported that an unknown quantity of toxic waste remained buried at the site.

US EPA examination of the site noted that there were ten industrial pollutants commonly found across the site. In addition to these pollutants, heavy metals and PCBs were also discovered at the site. In all, a 140 hazardous substances were found at the site. US EPA examination of the site found that though the site was near waterways and aquifers, public exposure to the on-site pollutants through those sources was unlikely. Human exposure was also limited by the low concentration of human populations near the site, which also may have been a factor in the length of time it took to discover the site.

Part of the importance of this site is the role it played in stimulating the creation of additional federal regulations related to the control of toxic waste in the US. The Valley of the Drums, along with the incident at Love Canal (Love Canal) is often cited as a rationale for the creation of the (Comprehensive Environmental Response and Liability Act, CERCLA, in 1980. CERCLA sites were first listed in 1983. The Valley of the Drums was not added to that list until 1986.

For current site information from the US EPA click HERE.

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