Residents voice concerns about Badin Works contamination

Published 5:08 pm Wednesday, November 20, 2019

By Chris Miller

Stanly News & Press

ALBEMARLE — Though Alcoa Badin Works has been shuttered since 2007, hazardous waste has continued to leak into nearby bodies of water, including Little Mountain Creek and Badin Lake, causing concern and anger among Badin residents.

The concerns were heard Tuesday night as residents, health officials and students from Duke University’s Environmental Law and Policy Clinic met to discuss the issue in Albemarle. The meeting was facilitated by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and N.C. Division of Waste Management.

Though the former Alcoa site has been dormant for years, for many decades it produced large quantities of a waste material called spent potliner, which is generated in the aluminum smelting industry.

“It’s basically a combination of carbon and everything that’s not aluminum that is generated when aluminum is produced,” said Ryke Longest, co-director of Duke’s Environmental Law and Policy Clinic.

Hazardous contaminants found in the Aloca spent potliner include toxic fluoride and cyanide, which are leachable in water, along with polychorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), Longest said.

The contaminants are absorbed, like a sponge, into the material and then released over time into the ground.

“It’s like a bunch of wet sponges filled with fluoride compounds and cyanide compounds. And when you put them in the ground and water gets in contact with them in any way, through groundwater or otherwise, it moves and gets into the surface water,” Longest said.

Alcoa opened its aluminum smelting operation in Badin in 1917 and dumped hazardous waste without regulation until 1980, he said, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set regulations declaring spent potliner a hazardous waste.

There are 46 dump sites at or near Badin Business Park, the site of the former aluminum operation that Alcoa still owns. The three dump sites that contain the most buried spent potliner are North Plant, Alcoa-Badin Landfill and Old Brick Landfill.

None of the landfills or dump sites has liners, which means the hazardous materials are in direct contact with the subsurface, said Anna Wade, a Duke student at the meeting.

Alcoa-Badin Landfill still leaches contaminants into nearby Little Mountain Creek, while North Plant and Old Brick Landfill leach contaminants into Badin Lake.

Longest said the drinking water has thus far not been affected, but fish in the area, especially in Little Mountain Creek, have been affected. Fish consumption advisories are posted around town.

Though Alcoa has enacted interim measures to try to limit the damage from the hazardous waste, including fencing around the plant and dump sites and applying a mixture of soil, grass, clay and straw to cover the landfill sites, Longest said the measures have been only a temporary remedy.

“It’s not going to get worse, but it’s not going to improve,” Longest said.

Wade said many of the covered landfills are wet, which suggests infiltration is ongoing.

A solution would be to excavate the hazardous material from the ground and put it into a hazardous waste landfill that’s not near any body of water.

Several Badin residents were at the meeting and voiced anger and displeasure toward Alcoa and the state for not doing enough to clean up the site.

Macy Hinson, who lives in west Badin, said contaminants in Alcoa-Badin Landfill are flowing into Little Mountain Creek, which runs into Lake Tillery. But Longest said Lake Tillery has not been affected by the contaminants.

“You don’t cover up PCB and get rid of it,” he said. “It’s there forever.”

Hinson said the trash dump needs to be excavated and the hazardous materials taken away.

Other people were more blunt.

Kelly Irwin, who lives on Badin Lake, said it’s “unbelievable to me” that Alcoa has been dumping toxic waste in the area for 100 years. He aske why the state hasn’t forced the company to do something about it.

“Whatever remedies they were trying to do haven’t worked, and so I don’t understand why they don’t clean up the facility,” Irwin said.

“How many people don’t realize just how bad this is and they’re actually eating fish caught out of the lake?” Badin resident Polly Martin said.

Norwood resident Danny Coburn said if he left his trash on the ground, his father would make him pick it up.

“We should demand that Alcoa clean up their trash,” Coburn said.

Ron Bryant also lives in Norwood and said he worked for a corporation that polluted.

“However, my corporation discovered their pollution and spent 40 years … cleaning it up without being told to do it by any organization,” Bryant said.

Valerie Tyson, a member of Concerned Citizens of West Badin, said members of the group have attended numerous meetings, talked with officials and voiced their concerns about the cleanup for the past decade.

“We’re still waiting on something to happen,” Tyson said. “We want it cleaned up. When you mess up, clean it up.”

Ashley Daniels of Wilmington attended the meeting to show support for Concerned Citizens of West Badin. She has worked with the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network.

While Badin residents consented and agreed to work for Alcoa, they did not consent to being negatively affected by hazardous materials, Daniels said.

“There is no conceivable way that a company should make hundreds, thousands, millions of dollars off a community and have an option to determine how much they want to clean it up,” Daniels said.

Concerned Citizens of West Badin filed a lawsuit with the Southern Environmental Law Center against the state in 2017 to try to limit the contaminated groundwater being released into nearby bodies of water.

The law center negotiated a settlement with Alcoa in June that requires the company to construct a stormwater system to stop contaminated groundwater from being released, center attorney Chandra Taylor said. The company was also issued an updated permit, effective Oct. 31, that put limits on the amount of cyanide and fluoride it could discharge into waterways.

The improvements to the stormwater system have not worked, Taylor said, and though cyanide levels are lower, they still exceed N.C. water quality standards and so the company “is almost certainly in violation of that permit.”