CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — On Tuesday, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate whether the Town of Chapel Hill’s coal ash dump should be cleaned up under the national Superfund program.
Around 60,000 cubic yards — roughly the equivalent of 46 Olympic-sized swimming pools — of UNC-Chapel Hill’s toxic coal ash was dumped in a large pit at 828 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, according to a news release from the center.
The town later bought the property and built the police station and Bolin Creek greenway on site.
“This contaminated property is surrounded in every direction by housing, businesses and wildlife habitat and it needs to be cleaned up,” said Perrin de Jong, Southeast staff attorney at the Center. “I’m really aware of the risks to neighbors because I grew up as a small child in one of the surrounding apartment buildings, playing in the yard in Bolin Creek just downstream from the ash dump.”
The center is looking to get the EPA’s help in conducting the full removal and cleanup of the dump.
Formerly buried, the coal ash has reached the surface of the property, according to the center. Soil, water and sediment tests conducted on the property and in Bolin Creek found that the surrounding environment has been contaminated with heavy metals and radioactive material, the center said.
These laboratory tests have revealed elevated levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury and hexavalent chromium, as well as, radioactive material such as radium, in the environment around the ash dump. All these pollutants are constituents of coal ash.
Bolin Creek empties into Jordan Lake, which is the drinking water source for 1 million people in the Triangle-area.
“The scariest thing for people and wildlife is that the town is working toward demolishing the police department and building a new facility there without fully removing the toxic coal ash and cleaning up the site,” said de Jong. “Local residents and recreational users of the Bolin Creek greenway not only have to worry about soil and water contamination, they also have to be concerned about coal ash blowing around and getting into their lungs during demolition, grading and construction.”
In 2020, Chapel Hill removed 1,000 tons of coal ash from the site to accommodate the use of the Bolin Creek Trail.
However, a large amount remains across over half of the 10-acre site, the center said. The exact amount of toxic material on the site is unknown.
Superfund is a federal program that guides and supports cleanup or remediation of sites contaminated with hazardous materials.