Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 17, 2023

Contact:

Perrin de Jong, (828) 595-1862, perrin@biologicaldiversity.org

EPA Pressed to Add Chapel Hill Coal Ash Dump to Superfund List

Petition Seeks Full Cleanup of Thousands of Tons of UNC’s Coal Ash

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.— The Center for Biological Diversity today 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.

Approximately 60,000 cubic yards — roughly the equivalent of 46 Olympic-sized swimming pools — of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s toxic coal ash was dumped in a large pit at 828 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. 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’s objective is to obtain the EPA’s help in conducting the full removal and cleanup of the coal ash dump. Superfund is a federal program that guides and supports cleanup or remediation of sites contaminated with hazardous materials.

Formerly buried, the coal ash has reached the surface of the property. Soil, water and sediment tests conducted on the property and in Bolin Creek indicate that the surrounding environment has been contaminated with heavy metals and radioactive material. 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 drains into Jordan Lake, which is the drinking water source for 1 million people. Additionally, Bolin Creek is part of a watershed occupied by a threatened species — the Atlantic pigtoe freshwater mussel. These mussels face the threat of extinction in part because of heavy metal and chemical pollution in their habitat. This watershed is one of the last two places in the Cape Fear River basin where the mussel can still be found.

“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 the coal ash from the site to accommodate the use of the Bolin Creek Trail. But a very large amount remains across over half of the 10-acre site. The exact amount of toxic material on the site is unknown.

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Photo of coal ash on the surface of the ground at 828 Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard on May 13, 2022, after Chapel Hill removed coal ash from the site, courtesy of Adam Searing. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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