The Pulse

This week in pollution: Another violation for Winston Weaver fertilizer plant, plus meetings on proposed mine, coal ash

By: - April 11, 2022 12:51 pm
The Winston Weaver Fertilizer plant, 4440 N. Cherry St., Winston-Salem, fire burned for more than four days in early February. The NC Department of Environmental Quality recently cited the company for violations of the Clean Water Act related to a second stash of chemicals at a different location, where contaminated runoff entered a creek. (Photo: Drone footage, Winston-Salem Fire Department)

For environmental watchdogs, the new EPA notification service is better than birthday, Halloween celebrations combined. Even better than guessing the Wordle puzzle on the first try.

The EPA a free ECHO Notify, and every Monday morning your inbox will ping with a list of all the violations and enforcement actions entered into the database by state and federal regulators the previous week. (The actual violations might have occurred earlier.)

Sign up here.

For instance, this morning the North Carolina notification system reported 300 environmental violations and enforcement actions at 219 facilities. 

Among those violators was the Winston Weaver Fertilizer Plant. The facility stored 600 tons of ammonium nitrate at its facility, 4440 N. Cherry St. Winston-Salem, which caught fire in February. But the company had a second stash of chemicals at a different location, where runoff had polluted a nearby creek, a violation of the Clean Water Act.

The company also failed to document its stormwater discharge, its employee training for spill responses, and other pollution prevention plans.

According to state records, Winston Weaver’s industrial stormwater permit expired in 2017. However, the company had submitted its renewal application in September 2016, so DEQ “administratively continued” the permit beyond its expiration date — for five years.

This map shows the current location of the Chapel Hill Police Department, which sits atop tons of coal ash. The town plans to relocate the department and build apartments and commercial space on top of the ash, which will be covered. (Map: Town of Chapel Hill)

Mine near a school; homes over coal ash

Three Oaks Quarry will formally present its proposal for a mine in Hamptonville, to be built less than 1,000 feet from West Yadkin Elementary School. The Yadkin County Planning and Zoning Board will hear the company’s request for a rezoning to accommodate the project.

Hamptonville residents overwhelmingly oppose the mine; more than 300 people attended a community meeting last month to voice their concerns over water quality, noise, trucks and the mine’s impact on the school.

The company is owned by Jack Mitchell, a Wisconsin real estate developer with experiencing in mining and oil and gas leasing. It is a subsidiary of Synergy Materials. (Tonight, 6 p.m., 213 E. Elm St., Yadkinville)

Also contentious: Chapel Hill’s plan to build 200-plus apartments and 80,000-square-feet of commercial space atop ground contaminated with coal ash. The town police station is currently on the property at MLK Boulevard and Bolinwood Drive, and would relocate.

Coal ash contains hazardous compounds, including Chromium 6, arsenic, lead, radium and cadmium. Town officials say that the material poses no unacceptable risks as long as it is covered and contained. 

But state documents show there have been several instances in other areas of the state where parking lots have eroded or sinkholes have formed, exposing the ash.

Coal ash was used as structural fill on at least 70 sites in North Carolina; none of them has been redeveloped as housing, according to state records.

However that figure certainly an undercount. There is no notification requirement, usually recorded on the property deed, if the amount of ash is less than 1,000 cubic yards. Nor do state records document all of the old “legacy” sites when such activity was unregulated. 

That includes the Chapel Hill site. Town officials didn’t know coal ash had been used at the police department property until late 2013. The material dates from the 1960s and 1970s. 

In 2020, the town removed 1,000 tons of ash and soil along Bolin Creek Trail. To excavate and dispose of the rest of the ash would cost $13 million to $16 million. “If implemented it could result in significant short-term environmental impacts,” a town fact sheet reads, “including risk of exposure to coal ash to Bolin Creek and the community during excavation and on the order of 5,000 truck trips to and from the nearest suitable landfill located 40 miles from Chapel Hill.”

(Tuesday, 6:30 p.m. virtual meeting)

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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.