Environmental Protection

EEC Looks Back at ‘Valley of The Drums’ Legacy

By Kirsten Delamarter

Louisville industries disposed of hazardous waste at an illegal dump in Bullitt County known as Valley of the Drums. Thousands of metal drums — filled with various contaminants, such as heavy metals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and plastics — littered the property, known officially as the A.L. Taylor Superfund site. Photo courtesy of KDEP

Standing on top of the unassuming hill in Brooks, Kentucky, today, one might never know that the property was one of the country’s first superfund sites.

In the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, Louisville industries disposed of hazardous waste at an illegal dump in Bullitt County known as Valley of the Drums. Thousands of metal drums — filled with various contaminants, such as heavy metals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and plastics — littered the property, known officially as the A.L. Taylor Superfund site.

“Back before there was meaningful environmental regulations regarding how you managed your waste … it was not uncommon for waste to be managed in an uncontrolled situation,” Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection (KDEP) Commissioner Tony Hatton said. “Valley of the Drums was one of those situations.”

When the drums began to deteriorate, the contaminants leaked into nearby Wilson Creek.

Through the 1970s and 1980s, Kentucky’s environmental agency and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) worked to clean up the site and pursued legal action against the site’s owner. The EPA addressed the runoff issues, removed drummed waste and capped the property.

In 1996, the EPA removed the site from its National Priorities List, its list of hazardous waste sites eligible for remediation under the federal Superfund program. Valley of the Drums was one of the driving forces behind the nation’s current superfund laws, Hatton said.

The site, which KDEP continues to monitor, looks today like a grass-covered hill surrounded by a fence. It looks nothing like it did in the 1960s and ‘70s, Hatton said, but it’s “not just an aesthetic change.”

Some of the thousands of drums left at the superfund site. Photo courtesy of KDEP

“Despite the fact that it’s unfortunate that these activities occurred there, the EPA and the state have taken necessary actions to make it protective of human health and the environment,” he said.

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