Yadkin Riverkeeper intends to sue Alcoa

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 10, 2011

By Karissa Minn
BADIN — The Yadkin Riverkeeper group intends to sue Alcoa over harmful contamination it says the company discharged at its Badin Works facility.
Alcoa says it’s not solely to blame for the contamination. It also says there is no human health hazard, and the company is working on a plan to keep it that way.
A new study found PCBs in mussels in Badin Lake and fish downstream in Falls Reservoir that are linked to Alcoa’s former aluminum smelting plant, the Yadkin Riverkeeper said in a press release Tuesday.
An Oct. 7 report by Pace Analytical Services documented PCB readings in multiple samples taken from mussels, directly below Alcoa’s discharge pipes entering Badin Lake.
“The mussels not only tested positive for PCB’s but also proved to be an exact match to same types of PCBs Alcoa produced,” said Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks in the press release.
The study also found PCBs in fish sampled further downstream in Falls Reservoir. Naujoks said this shows that contaminants are migrating downstream, in spite of Alcoa’s statements that they aren’t.
According to a prior press release sent by Alcoa last week, the company knows that sediments in a section of Badin lake were “contaminated by historical storm water discharges from the former Badin Works smelter.”
Alcoa says it has closely monitored the sediments, which contain PCBs, for decades along with the state Division of Waste Management.
The company says the sediments do not pose a risk to humans, but it plans to cover them with a cap of sand and stone to prevent exposure to people and aquatic life.
Alcoa spokesman Mike Belwood said this is a “good step toward a solution,” but the company alone didn’t cause the problem.
“It’s unreasonable to think that our smelter at the lower end of the Yadkin River is the sole source of environmental issues facing that waterway, particularly when you consider that it’s been the site of industrial activity for more than 100 years,” Belwood said.
The cap includes an isolation layer of sand and granular activated carbon on the contaminated sediment and an armored layer of gravel and cobbles to prevent erosion.
The chemicals are isolated to one section of the lake, Alcoa says, according to studies performed by independent consultants under state and federal supervision.
Belwood said the company did not apply a cap earlier because it wanted to understand the issue thoroughly first.
At the request of state and federal regulators, Alcoa commissioned a study to look at a range of proposals to best address the sediment issue. It found that an armored cap would be the most effective way to stabilize the sediments and keep them from being disturbed in the future.
The study has been submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Waste Management, for evaluation and is currently under review.
Upon approval of the work plan, Alcoa says it expects to complete the project in 2012. The work will involve lowering the Badin Lake level to apply the cap system over a 3-acre area in the southwest arm of lake near the former smelter.
In the Yadkin Riverkeeper press release, Naujoks called Alcoa’s plan “too little, too late.”
“Their plan does not satisfactorily address the public health issues linked to Alcoa’s PCBs nor address the migration of Alcoa’s PCBs downstream through the Yadkin River dams,” he said. “It also fails to address the ecological risks we are seeing in terms of bioaccumulation. We see no other alternative than to file a lawsuit to address this serious ecological and public health risk.”
Naujoks also said the group doesn’t see a basis for the state to reissue a water quality certificate to Alcoa.
Alcoa Power Generating Inc. needs that certificate to get a new long-term license for its system of dams along the Yadkin River. The company has been trying to relicense the hydroelectric project for years, but Naujoks’ group and others have fought against it in court.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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