Company withdraws plans to inject wastewater into Memphis’ drinking water source

While Memphis sits on the banks of the Mississippi River, it draws its drinking water from the Memphis Sand Aquifer deep underground. (© Nancy Pierce)

The Carrier Corporation announced it will withdraw its application to inject partially treated wastewater from its Superfund site in Collierville into the Memphis Sand Aquifer, Shelby County’s drinking water source.

On behalf of our clients, Protect Our Aquifer and Tennessee Chapter Sierra Club, SELC submitted written legal and technical comments and appeared before the Shelby County Groundwater Board to oppose Carrier’s ill-advised plan. In response, the board tabled Carrier’s application and asked the Fortune 500 company to provide the additional information needed to evaluate its proposal, as we urged in our comments. 

“Clean water is too precious a commodity to risk for commercial needs when alternatives exist,” said Managing Attorney Amanda Garcia, who led SELC’s work on the issue.

Decades ago, the heating and air conditioning manufacturer contaminated the aquifer with trichloroethylene (TCE), a cancer-causing chemical. The Carrier manufacturing facility that caused the contamination, located just east of Memphis, is now a Superfund site. 

In an email sent from Carrier’s public relations department, the company shared that discussions with local, state, and federal officials led to them withdrawing the request.

This latest victory builds on prior work to protect the Memphis Sand Aquifer, which serves as the primary source of drinking water for the City of Memphis, Shelby County, and significant portions of West Tennessee. 

“This proposal never made sense and put our aquifer at risk of contamination,” said Ward Archer, President of Protect Our Aquifer. “After going through this process, we would like to see Carrier and the EPA take a holistic look at understanding the groundwater contamination issues between these two Superfund sites. This understanding is crucial to fully remedy the contamination problems impacting the Memphis Sand Aquifer.”

Carrier has detected hexavalent chromium — another toxic carcinogen — in the well it wanted to use for injection back into the Memphis Sand Aquifer. The hexavalent chromium may have been siphoned from the adjacent Smalley Piper Superfund site where cleanup is being managed by the EPA.

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