By Walter F. Roche Jr.
It was more than two decades ago when state and local officials held a news conference to announce a series of indictments stemming from a two year investigation of charges that a foam rubber manufacturing firm had engaged in widespread illegal dumping of hazardous wastes.
Some of that illegal disposal, the indictment charged, occurred on acres of Greene County farmland owned by the Cansler family.
Employees of Recticel, the indictment charged, buried "drums, containers and boxes containing hazardous waste at a dairy farm and other property in Greene County owned and leased by Steve Cansler."
Steve Cansler and the company Recticel, later renamed Foamex, were among those indicted. Cansler was identified as a maintenance supervisor for Recticel.
At the Sept. 8, 1992 press conference then U.S. Attorney Jerry G. Cunningham called the case the largest prosecution ever brought in the state of Tennessee for environmental violations.
Now some 23 years later Greene County properties once owned by the Cansler family are in the headlines again as the subsidiary of an Ohio explosives
manufacturer is putting the final touches on a facility that will
produce millions of gallons of ammonium nitrate a week. To make way for that project, US Nitrogen purchased hundreds of acres of county property and Cansler family holdings accounted for a substantial portion.
Even before the indictments, state environmental officials had warned of illegal hazardous waste disposal in Greene County and specifically referred to findings on Cansler family property
"No one knows where all the waste has gone. We'll never be able to account for all of it," D. Larry Gilliam, then a top state environmental official told a reporter for Trilogy magazine in the Spring of 1992.
State and county land records show several properties owned by the Canslers or related companies were sold to US Nitrogen.
include 43.5 acres from
Johnnie Cansler for a $500,000 purchase price in February of 2012. A
month earlier US Nitrogen purchased 74.5 acres from Cansler for
Records of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicate two sites on the Cansler properties have been listed as hazardous waste sites. One site was described as a dairy barn. The second was located on Route 1 in Midway.
On one site alone state and federal enforcement records list 37 violations dating back to the early 90s.
Though published reports in 1993 state that Cansler entered a guilty plea to two
counts of the 1992 indictment, he denied in a brief telephone interview that he did so. Asked if any of the pollution sites were sold to US Nitrogen , he said, "I can't help you."
up when asked to explain.
US Nitrogen officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Records do show that some of the charges against Recticel were overturned.