News | August 21, 2015

Shuttered Alcoa plant threatens North Carolina community

Listen to Senior Attorney Chandra Taylor discuss the legacy of pollution from Alcoa's factory in Badin, North Carolina.



Almost exactly 100 years ago, Alcoa purchased an aluminum smelting operation in Badin, North Carolina, a small town 47 miles east of Charlotte. The plant produced 115,000 metric tons of aluminum a year during its heyday, but today Alcoa’s Badin Works is closed. And although most of the jobs associated with the plant are long gone, its hazardous waste has been left behind.

Monitoring indicates that cyanide, fluoride, and PCBs from the smelting process have leached from an unlined landfill into the local groundwater and contaminated Badin Lake and Little Mountain Creek. Working with the predominantly African-American community of West Badin, where the plant is located, as well as the Yadkin Riverkeeper, SELC is pushing for a cleanup that is long overdue.

The plant was one of three Alcoa facilities a 1992 court ruling cited as warranting an extensive cleanup. The other two sites, Massena, NY, and Point Comfort, TX, were both designated Superfund sites by EPA, have already been cleaned up. In Badin, residents are still waiting for action.

Alcoa describes its cleanup plan as “natural attenuation,” a technical way of proposing the pollutants remain in place until they dissipate—a process that could take decades.

In early July, SELC and the town’s residents spoke out against a proposed new stormwater permit the company was seeking from the state of North Carolina. Not only would the proposed new permit actually relax the standards for pollutants, it would also allow the company three years to comply.

“To allow pollution to continue that should have been corrected years ago, also to allow a company that is no longer active, that is no longer generating jobs for this community to continue to pollute the waters of this community—I think that’s rather ridiculous,” local resident Ron Bryant told the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources at a public hearing.

Macy Hinson, who grew up in West Badin, remembered Alcoa trucks using PCB-laden oil to keep dust down on the dirt roads in his neighborhood. “PCB does not dissolve,” he said. It’s there forever.”

SELC is seeking to revise the permit, advocating for specific limitations and rigorous monitoring of the hazardous pollutants contaminating the water. We are pushing for appropriate removal of the wastes that continue to threaten the community. Not only is the pollution a violation of Clean Water Act standards, its disproportionate impact on West Badin’s African-American community also violates Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

We have already made progress. DENR has acknowledged concern about a three-year compliance schedule and said that the permit will not be issued in its current form. But there is a significant amount of work remaining.

“It’s up to people like y’all to correct the problems of the past,” said former Stanley County Commissioner Gary Lowder, “so that this county can have a water aquifer that’s clean enough that a cow can drink out of it and a human can drink out of it. And that’s not the case today.”