Raleigh’s Superfund sites include a former electronics-manufacturing facility, a Caterpillar dealer, a future city greenway and 1.5 acres of North Carolina State University.
“Superfund” refers to both the Environmental Protection Agency program for cleaning up hazardous-waste sites and the mechanism for financing cleanups. EPA can either clean up sites and bill the “potentially responsible parties” or require those responsible to do the cleanup.
In addition to the EPA, North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources has its own Superfund Section to investigate uncontrolled, unregulated hazardous waste sites.
For cleanup, the Federal Remediation Branch works with sites on the EPA’s National Priorities List, considered the most serious sites.
Other branches investigate hazmat releases, work with dry cleaners and manufactured-gas plants to clean up chemical spills and oversee uncontrolled landfills that closed prior to 1983.
Working with Superfund gives DENR the authority to clean up such sites, a bonus, said Jack Butler, the Chief of the DENR Superfund Section, because, “many of the sites we work on predate any requirement for permitting.”
Another benefit of obtaining the “Superfund” label is flexibility. Even if a site has multiple types of contamination, some programs can only tackle one variety such as air or water pollution.
With Superfund, Butler said, “when we go on a site, we can pull in other regulatory authority and address the entire site.”
Raleigh sites on the National Priorities List
- North Carolina State University
1.5 acres north of Carter-Finley Stadium.
Between 1969 and 1980, NC State buried containers of laboratory waste in 10-foot trenches. The site’s soil and groundwater are now contaminated with tetrachloroethane, dichloroethane, hexanone, arsenic, benzene, chloroform, chromium, cobalt, copper, managanese, methylene chloride, polychlorinated biphenyls, tritium and vinly chloride, among other pollutants.
The EPA states online that 150,000 people live within 4.5 miles of the site. Although some residents use private wells rather than city water, a 1996 study found the well water was uncontaminated.
The site went on the NPL in 1986. NC State agreed to the EPA cleanup requirements in 1998 and finished most of the work by 2006. The university is still working on treating the groundwater.
- Ward Transformer
11 acres on Mt. Herman Road
Ward Transformer Company Inc. made, repaired and sold transformers and other equipment on the site from 1964 to 2006. The site contains elevated levels of PCBs, which also turn up at lower levels in fish and sediments near the facility. DENR has posted warnings about the risks of eating fish from Brier Creek Reservoir, Little Brier Creek, Lake Crabtree and parts of Crabtree Creek.
A list of 43 different “responsible parties” working with the EPA have removed more than 350,000 tons of PCB-contaminated materials from the site. The companies and the EPA are negotiating other aspects of the cleanup.
Emergency Response and Removal Action Sites
- Caraleigh Phosphate and Fertilizer Works
1600 to 1750 Wheeler Road
A 2004 DENR investigation of this former fertilizer manufacturer found lead levels reached more than 5,000 parts per million in some soils, with arsenic as high as 253 ppm. The EPA recommends remediation for lead levels above 50 ppm and arsenic above 1.5 ppm.
An EPA contractor removed 4,500 tons of contaminated soil, excavated the site two feet deep and then covered it with clean soil. Raleigh plans to build a greenway on the site; EPA and DENR say they are working to ensure construction crews aren’t exposed to contaminants.
- Gregory Poole Caterpillar
4807 Beryl Road
In July 2011, a hose connected to a storage tank holding 700 gallons of 15W-40 oil ruptured. Oil entered a storm drain and flowed into a Walnut Creek tributary. The company deployed absorbent booms to contain the spill and recruited a cleaning company to vacuum up oil from the drain and the river. The only further steps listed on EPA’s website are to monitor the site and replace the booms when necessary.
- NC State University Oil Spill
2411 Yarbough Drive
In January 2009, a storage tank leaked 6,300 gallons of oil. The oil flowed into a storm drain that discharges into Rocky Branch Creek and a sanitary sewer that leads to the Neuse River treatment works. The leak affected 16 miles of sewer line.
The university hired a contractor to contain and remove the oil, then pressure-wash and steam-clean the sewer. The EPA doesn’t foresee any further action beyond periodically checking the creek.
- Tyco Healthcare Sulfuric Acid Spill
8801 Capital Blvd
In 2007, 15,000 gallons of sulfuric acid leaked from a containment tank. The Superfund website says the cause of the spill is still under investigation. Because of the risk the rain would react with acid and create a vapor cloud, the Raleigh Fire Department evacuated the area a half mile around the site. Three semi-tankers recovered the acid and transferred it to a containment area for disposal.
Raleigh has multiple inactive hazardous waste sites and old landfills covered by the DENR Superfund branch that weren’t listed in the story.
What Do They Do?
Here is an explaination of some of the contaminants found at Raleigh Superfund sites:
Check out an A to Z list of chemicals for more information.
Acetone is a colorless liquid found produced by both nature and manufacturing. Moderate quantities irritate the eyes and lungs and induce dizziness. High exposure causes unconsciousness, vomiting and headaches. Long-term exposure can cause kidney, liver and nerve damage.
Arsenic is a natural element used in manufacturing pesticides and wood preservers. The EPA has found arsenic in more than half the sites on the NPL. Low-level exposure can damage blood vessels and cause an abnormal heart rhythm. Heavy exposure kills; arsenic has been used as the poison of choice in many murder cases.
Benzene is a widely used industrial chemical that has turned up in more than 1,000 NPL sites. Breathing high levels of benzene can cause unconsciousness or death. Long-term exposure damages bone marrow, possibly causing a drop in red blood cell counts, excessive bleeding and a weaker immune system.
Chlordane is an artificial chemical compound used as a pesticide in the United States from 1948 to 1988. High levels of chlordane cause nerve and liver damage.
Chloroform is a colorless, chlorine-based liquid used in manufacturing. Breathing chloroform causes dizziness, fatigue or headaches. Prolonged exposure can cause skin sores, liver damage and kidney damage.
Chromium is a metallic element that can exist as liquid, solid or gas. Although some forms of chromium are an essential nutrient, high levels of exposure can cause cancer, anemia or stomach damage.
Lead can harm almost every organ and system in the human body, particularly the nervous system. Lead exposure decreases nerve functions, weakens the limbs and causes anemia. Heavy exposure can damage the brain and kidneys, and cause death or miscarriage.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are mixes of up to 209 artificial chlorine-based compounds, many of them known by the trade name Aroclor. Industry uses them as coolants and lubricants in electrical equipment, but the United States banned their manufacture in 1977. PCB exposure causes rashes; heavy exposure may cause liver damage.
Sulfuric acid has many uses in manufacturing, including car batteries. It’s a corrosive fluid and can become a gas. Exposure burns the skin, eyes and lungs, potentially harshly enough to kill.
Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen found in nature and also produced by nuclear power plants. In sufficient quantities it might cause cancer or genetic abnormalities.