Lax state oversight puts vulnerable North Carolina community at risk

North Carolina's Badin Lake, popular for fishing and recreation, is threatened by unchecked runoff from a shuttered Alcoa plant in West Badin. (© Ed Brenner)

For years, Alcoa’s use and disposal of several harmful substances at its aluminum smelting site in West Badin, an African-American community near Badin Lake, North Carolina, went largely unchecked. A new proposed permit for pollution runoff from the shuttered plant is under review by the state and comments submitted this week by SELC highlight several problems with the permit’s current iteration.

Monitoring data shows that cyanide, fluoride, and trichloroethylene are being discharged into nearby Badin Lake and Little Mountain Creek, both of which are already state-designated impaired waterways. A drainage system carries contaminated groundwater from beneath the Alcoa facility and its onsite landfill to outfalls in the nearby waterways, which are used for recreation and fishing.

To this day, the state has made no complete determination of the extent and composition of waste on the Alcoa site nor has the company taken substantial action to address what contamination remains.

To address these concerns, SELC submitted comments to the state on behalf of our partners, Concerned Citizens of West Badin Community and Yadkin Riverkeeper.  The comments request the state to set limits on harmful pollutants from each of the 11 wastewater discharge points originating on the Alcoa site. The comments also request an analysis at each of the discharge points, since the state has not fully assessed the extent of dumping or composition of dumped materials at the Alcoa landfill. Even without that full assessment, North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality is aware that PCBs, a known carcinogen, were discharged from the Alcoa facility, yet the proposed permit contains no limit on PCBs. Our comments request a limit that protects the people and natural resources of the area be included in the permit.

In addition to these environmental issues, the DEQ permit raises concerns under the Civil Rights Act because the state’s disregard for public health has a disparate impact on racial minorities in the area near the smelting facility.

DEQ has until Dec. 7, when it is expected to issue a new permit, to consider comments.

Listen to Senior Attorney Chandra Taylor discuss the Alcoa's legacy of pollution in West Badin.

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