Update: Officials warn about eating fish from Badin Lake

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

RALEIGH (AP) ó North Carolina environmental officials are investigating the cause of contaminated fish in a lake and the probe could slow an aluminum makerís quest for a federal water quality permit.
The state Division of Public Health officials said Wednesday that large mouth bass and catfish in Badin Lake, located east of Charlotte in Stanly and Montgomery counties, had elevated PCB levels.
Alcoa Inc. operates an aluminum plant and owns a defunct smelter on the lake. The company also operates four electric-generating dams on the Yadkin River that feeds the lake.
Alcoa acknowledges it likely is responsible for the contamination from PCBs and other chemicals found in sediment near the defunct smelter on the southern shore of the lake, The Charlotte Observer reported Thursday.
But state officials said two of the three contaminated fish found in the lake came from its northern end. Health officials say the PCBs could have traveled by air and Alcoa said they might have come from upstream.
ěWe need to try to do more investigation of where those (chemicals) are coming from,î said John Dorney, a division official in charge of water-quality certification. ěThe publicís going to want to know where this stuff is coming from.î
PCBs are chemicals formerly used as coolants and transformer lubricants that were released into the environment through manufacturing or improper disposal and storage of electrical equipment.
Since 2006, the fish have been under statewide and regional mercury advisories. Officials advise pregnant or nursing women or children under 15 not to eat from the lake. Others should not eat more than one weekly meal including fish from the lake.
Badin Lake is the third North Carolina water body where consumers were warned about eating fish contaminated with PCBs, The Observer said. The other two lakes are near Raleigh.
Officials posted the Badin Lake advisory during a time when officials are questioning Alcoaís water use and contamination from the closed smelter on the lake.
North Carolina regulators are required to certify that the companyís operations wonít harm water quality in the Yadkin River in order for Alcoa to renew its 50-year federal hydroelectric license. The state has to respond by May.
Dorney said the fish findings are part of the decision-making process and the state hasnít decided whether the contamination will be part of the review of water quality for the federal permit.
State officials could ask Alcoa to withdraw the permit application and reapply to give more time for the investigation. The company was asked to do the same last spring when the county submitted a report on contamination.

On the Net:
Water Advisory: http://www.epi.state.nc.us/epi/fish/current.html