Researchers checking old aerial photographs for clues to high disease rates in part of Memphis, Tenn., have spotted two sites that might have been chemical waste dumps in 1946 and 1963.
Rep. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) said yesterday that the two sites are visible as discolored and differently contoured areas in the Frayser section of north Memphis, where citizens have been complaining of increased rates of cancer, lung problems, birth defects and skin diseases.
However, he said the two areas have not yet been tested and any conclusions about them would be premature.
Four years of soil and blood tests in the Frayser section have failed to find any toxic chemical in concentrations that the Environmental Protection Agency would regard as dangerous.
However, the Environmental Defense Fund and several local residents have argued that the low levels found so far are well above background levels and therefore are dangerous to health, and also that they indicate the presence of some kind of chemical comtamination.
One "possible dumpsite" was spotted in a 1946 aerial photograph by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It shows a discolored area about one-quarter mile southwest of the home of James and Evonda Pounds, whose complaints about their children's health started the controversy in 1976.
EPA's Environmental Photographic Interpretation Center near Warranton, Va., which scrutinized the photos, also found another possible site near a neighborhood in which an informal newspaper survey found 36 cancer cases in 72 homes.
Harold J. Snyder, chief of EPA's hazardous waste site control branch, said the EPA will sample any discharge in the two areas and talk to residents before deciding whether to do a test drilling in either place.