After years of neglect, four of NC’s most polluted Superfund sites funded for clean-up

By: - January 19, 2022 12:00 pm
Four Superfund sites in North Carolina are receiving additional federal money to boost clean ups of hazardous waste. They are located in Charlotte, Gastonia, Jacksonville and Yadkinville. The map shows other cities to provide geographic context. (Map: Lisa Sorg; Data source: EPA)

With American Rescue Plan funds, EPA targets sites in Charlotte, Gastonia, Yadkinville and Jacksonville; here’s what neighbors should know

A blighted eyesore on Jacksonville’s main drag. Contaminated former dry cleaners in suburban Gastonia and far east Charlotte. A vast and abandoned creosote treatment facility that has poisoned the soil, groundwater and nearby streams and a pond.

The EPA announced in mid-December that four languishing Superfund sites in North Carolina would receive money under the American Rescue Plan, among the 49 nationwide to get the financial boost, with a total of $1 billion. All of the North Carolina Superfund sites are in environmental justice communities, based on race, income, or both.

The Superfund program, also known as the National Priorities List, contains some of the most toxic places in the nation. The potentially responsible parties, as they’re termed by the EPA, have either disappeared, gone bankrupt or can’t pay for the cleanups. Since Congress allowed a special corporate tax to lapse that generated revenue for Superfund, general taxpayer dollars have had to cover the costs.

There are 1,322 sites enrolled in the Superfund program (38 in North Carolina); another 51 are proposed for listing. Since 1980, when Congress approved the program, 447 have been cleaned up, deleted from the list and are ready for some type of redevelopment. Of those, four are North Carolina.

Here are summaries of the four targeted North Carolina sites, with links that provides additional background and full histories of the contamination. If you or someone you know or advocate for lives near a Superfund site, each location is assigned a community liaison, whose contact information is also listed below.

ABC One-Hour Cleaners, 1-acre

The former dry cleaning site is across the road from Camp Lejeune. Map: DEQ

Estimated cost of cleanup: To be determined
Year placed on the Superfund list: 1989
EPA community liaison: Stephanie Brown • 404-562-8450

Pollutants: The dry cleaning solvents PERC and TCE, as well as vinyl chloride, contaminated the soil, which continues to force-feed pollution into the groundwater. The contaminant plume is already in the aquifer and expanding toward Northeast Creek, which feeds the New River.

Potentially responsible party: Milton and Victor Melts, both deceased, operated ABC One-Hour Cleaners from 1964 to 2005. The business was sold in 2005, but only accepted drop-off clothing and did no cleaning onsite after the sale. That company operated until 2011. The buildings have since been demolished.

Environmental justice indicators: Census block 989 people, 49.75% persons of color, 57.84% low-income

Cleanup remedy: The EPA plans to use thermal oxidation — essentially heating the soil to high temperatures — to remove the contaminants. A groundwater remedy has yet to be determined, pending results of the cleanup of the soil, which is the source of the groundwater contamination. Policy Watch reported in 2020 about the previous cleanup failures over the past 30 years.

Hemphill Road TCE, 15 acres

Aerial photo: EPA

Estimated cost of cleanup remedy: $5.8 million
Year placed on the Superfund list: 2013
EPA community liaison: Zariah Lewis • 404-562-8342

Pollutants: The soil and groundwater contain TCE, which is known to cause cancer. A type of solvent, TCE can also harm the liver, kidneys and heart. Two household drinking water wells were contaminated, but the EPA has since installed water filter systems in those homes.

Potentially responsible party: In the 1950s, Carl Hendrix, now deceased, recycled industrial waste barrels for scrap metal. He emptied the chemicals on the ground, then rinsed and flattened the barrels, which were then sold.

Environmental justice indicators: Census block 1,991 people, 37.2% persons of color, 55.4% low-income

Cleanup remedy: Injecting chemicals into the ground through wells to permanently destroy the contamination. The cleanup plan also includes the long-term monitoring of groundwater and connecting residences with affected wells to another water source.

Ram Leather Care, 10 acres

Aerial photo: EPA

Estimated cost of cleanup remedy: To be determined
Year placed on the Superfund list: 2003
EPA community liaison: Angela Miller • 404-562-8561

Pollutants: The dry cleaning solvent PERC and similar compounds have been found in the soil, groundwater and bedrock aquifer. Exposure can cause neurological problems, blood disorders, and fetal development, as well as damage the kidney, liver and immune system. Studies of people exposed in the workplace have found associations with several types of cancer including bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma.

Potentially responsible party: Ram Leather Care, a former dry cleaning facility, operated from 1977 to 1993. Chemicals were stored in drums and in an above-ground storage tank, which leaked and spilled contaminants. After the EPA notified company owners they had to clean up the site or risk fines and legal action, Ram Leather Care declared bankruptcy.

Environmental justice indicators: (Site is in one census block and across the road from another.) Census block, 2,749 people, 18.73% persons of color, 19% low-income. Second census block, 1,298 people, 55.7% persons of color, 29.35% low-income

Cleanup remedy: Because of the extent of the contamination, the cleanup is complex. Technology includes soil vapor extraction (essentially a large vacuum that sucks contaminated gases from the soil and treats them). Other remedies include heating the contaminated soil to very high temperatures, which destroys the contaminants, and installation of a “biobarrier” to prevent any remaining solvents from traveling through the groundwater. An existing water line will be extended to at least one nearby household where low levels of contamination were detected.

Holcomb Creosote, 80 acres

Area photo: EPA

Estimated cost of cleanup remedy: $4.8 million to $7.3 million
Year placed on the Superfund list: 2012
EPA community liaison: Stephanie Brown • 404-562-8450

Pollutants: About a dozen chemicals and compounds have contaminated soil, sediment, groundwater, surface water and a building onsite. These include ethylbenzene, which can harm the kidneys and cause irreversible damage to hearing and the inner ear. Another compound, 2-methylnaphthalene, is classified as possible carcinogen and is known to destroy red blood cells, resulting in anemia. There are several contaminated areas on the property, including unlined pits, a stream where creosote was discharged, plus Dobbins Pond, soil and groundwater. Roughly 23,220 tons of naphthalene-contaminated soil remains.

Potentially responsible party: Holcomb Creosote Company used coal tar solutions to pressure treat posts and other lumber from the 1950s to 2009. Before the site entered the Superfund program, state environmental regulators cited the company for multiple violations. The company is out of business.

Environmental justice indicators: Census block 1,853 people, 37.29% persons of color, 51.11% low-income

Cleanup remedy: In 2011 the EPA removed some contaminated soil as part of emergency response action to stop contamination releases and their spread into the unnamed stream and nearby Dobbins Mill Pond. However, given the amount of contamination remaining, further cleanup could include pumping and treating groundwater, heating it so that gases can be captured, injecting groundwater with microbes to help break down the pollutants.

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Lisa Sorg
Lisa Sorg

Assistant Editor and Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg helps manage newsroom operations while covering the environment, climate change, agriculture and energy.