As the city of Nashville spends millions on redeveloping the riverfront downtown, a Channel 4 I-Team investigation found the river past downtown has been polluted by a riverfront industry for years.
The company polluting the river, according to Metro Water inspection records, stands next door to the city's upcoming adventure play park.
Metro Water inspectors found in September 2010, PSC Metals was dumping a substantial input of pollutants - such as sediment, metal and hydrocarbons - into the Cumberland River, according to inspection reports.
PSC's website reads it recycles scrap in an "environmentally responsible manner."
A Metro inspector wrote they found there are multiple areas of concern, including a photo that showed water coming from where the company was hosing off a metal mill, and the contaminated water coming from it had a visible sheen that dumped into a drain that ultimately ended up in the river.
A 2010 water quality report in Tennessee states metal contamination can kill fish and aquatic life and pose danger to people who come in contact with the water or eat fish from the water.
Also, sediment is the No. 1 pollution problem in the state. It can disrupt feeding of fish and mating patterns and carry other contaminants, such as oil and grease.
"It's going into our drinking water supply," said John McFadden of the Tennessee Environmental Council.
He reviewed the pollution reports for the I-Team.
"And while we do a great job of cleaning up our water supply," McFadden said, "it's not any one chemical that's going to get you: It's a combination of many chemicals that will get you, at very low levels."
That isn't McFadden's biggest concern.
When Metro inspectors found the pollution in September, they found the company had no idea it was discharging pollutants in two separate areas.
In a letter from PSC to the city, the company wrote it thought in one area, it was dumping in a drain that led to the city's sewage treatment facility. In reality, it was dumping into the Cumberland River.
There is no indication of how long the polluted water was being dumped.
"For them not to know where the discharge is going," McFadden said, "it's just not responsible at all."
After Metro pointed out the problems, what did the company do?
Nothing, according to Metro pollution reports.
Two months later, a Metro inspector wrote that "no effort had been made by PSC to cease the illicit discharge into the river."
The first place the polluted water flows by is the site of the new adventure play park, the anchor site to draw people down to the river.
Councilman Mike Jameson's name is on the sign at the park.
"If PSC has more emission going into the water," said Jameson, "then we have to go after them."
PSC issued the I-Team a statement, reading in part, "When Metro Water Services notified us in September 2010 that the drains actually went into the Cumberland River, PSC Metals took immediate action to stop any process water from leaving our property. … We have met with both Metro Water Services and TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) on several occasions to obtain approval for a long-range plan to eliminate this issue."
On Feb. 1, PSC wrote to the city it had tried to stop the pollution discharging into the river by covering drains and placing oil-absorbent booms around a storm drain.
But the I-Team has found that when the city inspected just 23 days later after a heavy rain, it still found pollutants that had washed from the company that far exceeded Tennessee's acceptable levels for heavy metals.
It's unclear if any of those pollutants ended up in the river.
This is not the first time PSC has been cited by the state for storm water exceeding cut-off concentrations for pollutants.
In 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007, state inspectors found contaminants in storm water from PSC. According to the reports, both in 2003 and 2007, the pollution entered the river.
In the statement to the I-Team, PSC wrote, "The last notice of violation (Nov) PSC Metals has received from the state was about four years ago in 2007. It involved the need to update our storm water plan, which we did."
But environmentalists and city council members said that can't fix what may become an image problem for the riverfront.
"Anything that jeopardizes that is concerning," said Jameson.
The city is spending millions to get people to come to the riverfront, and an industry right on riverfront has polluted it for years.
Jameson, whose council district encompasses downtown, had this message for PSC:
"That may be the opportunity to be the final straw and encourage them to look elsewhere," he said.
The state Department of Environment and Conservation said the amount of pollution from PSC is likely diluted once it enters the river because of the river's size.
Because the Cumberland is not listed on the state's polluted water list, the state and the city said as long as PSC continues to try to fix its problems, there will be no further violation notices.
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