Clean Up the Coal Ash Dump


Chapel Hill Police station, 828 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Chapel Hill

In May 2014, the Town of Chapel Hill informed the public that a coal ash landfill was found to be located on the site of the Chapel Hill Police Building. For more than a decade in the 1960s and ’70s, this property was used as a burial pit for coal ash. The coal ash in this unlined landfill contains known hazardous substances, including heavy metals that have leached out into the environment and will continue to do so.

The discovery of the coal ash deposit was likely made during a 2013-14 review of town property launched by the staff when considering the sale of town assets. The presence of the coal ash waste undoubtedly complicates the decision to sell the property. Whatever the town decides to do about the location of a new police station, we would expect that our Town will clean up the site. Chapel Hill residents deserve no less.

In a May 2014 letter to Mayor Kleinschmidt, Friends of Bolin Creek urged the Town to clean up the large coal ash dump and not to allow the coal ash to remain in an unlined pit in the center of town. Here is topographical map showing the location of the coal deposit.

The Town hired a consultant Falcon Engineering to make tests and to report to the North Carolina Department of the Environmental Quality (DEQ). Soil samples taken on the site by Falcon in early 2014 identified elevated levels of coal ash metals in the ground water such as arsenic, mercury, chromium, lead, thallium, and other dangerous pollutants. Well test results have been mixed at a new set of well locations, where the counsultant used filtered samples without finding high levels of dissolved coal ash pollutants.

Friends of Bolin Creek has raised questions about the procedures used and the choice of location for the tests, and we have communicated our concerns to the Town and Department of Environmental Quality.

The Town has posted a Web page called “Chapel Hill Coal Ash Disposal Site Remediation Project” containing relevant documents here. In mid 2015, Friends of Bolin Creek requested help from the Southern Environmental Law Center for legal and support services.

Clean up makes a difference.  According to a January 29, 2016 report, groundwater contamination dramatically declined along the Catawba-Wateree River after a South Carolina utility removed the coal ash under a settlement negotiated by the Southern Environmental Law Center. See article.

“These results confirm that when you remove the polluting coal ash, you also eliminate pollution of groundwater,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Duke Energy and North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality must wake up to this reality, learn from South Carolina, and move all of Duke Energy’s polluting coal ash from unlined waterfront pits to safe dry lined storage.  Otherwise, North Carolina’s groundwater will be polluted for years to come.”

North Carolina has more than 30 such sites in 14 different locations across the state. A pipe running under one of the ponds run by Duke Energy in Eden NC ruptured in February of 2014. The coal ash spilled, largely affecting the Dan River which flows into Virginia. The spill is the third largest of its kind in U.S. history.

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