The Town of Chapel Hill’s Police Station property is located at 828 Martin Luther King Boulevard. Approximately 60,000 cubic yards of coal ash was dumped in a 4.5 acre area at the property in the 1960s and 1970s. Chapel Hill acquired the property in 1980. The town first reported the coal ash to the public in 2013, when it began preparing to sell the property and move the Police Station.
The site contains a coal ash cliff 40 feet high that is eroding coal ash and toxic pollutants down to the public greenway along Bolin Creek.
After soil tests showed high levels of contaminants along the Bolin Creek greenway and continued groundwater contamination, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality determined that "there is a release, or substantial threat of a release into the environment of a hazardous substance from the Site and an area accessible to the public."
Numerous tests of the groundwater and soil at the coal ash dump site have found high levels of dangerous pollutants, including arsenic, lead, and chromium. The groundwater and surface runoff from the dump flow directly to the greenway and the creek.
Buried coal ash is shown in blue and yellow on the map below, and exposed coal ash is shown in green and pink – this includes the ash that has eroded from the coal ash cliff into the flood plain of Bolin Creek. The coal ash now sits exposed on both sides of the public greenway area where pets and kids play:
To date, the Town of Chapel Hill has drilled groundwater monitoring wells, taken water and soil samples, and produced many reports, but has not committed to remove the coal ash.
You should know the test results and latest information:
December 1, 2017 – In an update to the Town Council, the Town Manager states that over the next several months Chapel Hill will be evaluating remedial options, including the N.C. Brownfields Program. This program allows a property owner to avoid cleaning up the site to regulatory standards.
October 3, 2017 – N.C. DEQ requests that Chapel Hill develop a remedial action plan under an administrative agreement with the agency.
September 6, 2017 – After reviewing an updated map of the coal ash deposits along the greenway, Friends of Bolin Creek informs N.C. DEQ that even more of the ash is located in the floodplain of Bolin Creek than was previously recognized.
July 13, 2017 – N.C. DEQ informs Chapel Hill that its latest report incorrectly claims there is no coal ash south of the Bolin Creek trail. DEQ points out that coal ash that has washed down from the dump site is located on both sides of the trail and that soil samples along the greenway "detected elevated levels of arsenic" and other pollutants.
March 13, 2017 – At a Town Council public hearing, Friends of Bolin Creek emphasizes the need to clean up the site because the 40-foot coal ash cliff is a long-term risk and the dump is polluting the public greenway, Bolin Creek, and the surrounding environment. Friends of Bolin Creek points out that the town's latest report says the coal ash is separated from the groundwater but this claim is not supported by drilling records from the site.
January 26, 2017 – Phase II Remedial Investigation Report completed. The report confirms there is a 40-foot high coal ash cliff eroding onto the Bolin Creek greenway, there is significant coal ash contamination of groundwater and soil at the site, and sampling shows the site is harming water quality in Bolin Creek.
September 2016 – Several months after soil tests along the Bolin Creek Greenway reveal high levels of arsenic, chromium, and other coal ash pollutants, Chapel Hill installs warning signs along the Greenway. The signs refer to "Remediation," but no remediation or cleanup of the site is occurring.
July 22, 2016 – Chapel Hill produces a Draft "Phase II Remedial Investigation Work Plan" for further study of the coal ash site and contamination area along the Bolin Creek greenway. Friends of Bolin Creek points out that the plan needs to include testing for hexavalent chromium, a highly toxic carcinogen previously found at the site.
May 5, 2016 – DEQ's Division of Waste Management informs Chapel Hill that the state has determined that "there is a release, or substantial threat of a release into the environment of a hazardous substance from the Site and an area accessible to the public." Chapel Hill must complete a "remedial investigation" that delineates the extent of the contamination.
April 1, 2016 – New testing reveals high levels of contaminants in the soil along the Bolin Creek greenway above the residential and groundwater protection soil standards: arsenic, barium, cobalt, manganese, selenium, thallium, and vanadium. Most concerningly, the soil samples along the greenway contain very high levels of total chromium, and it is not yet known how much is the dangerous carcinogenic form called hexavalent chromium. The report also shows continued high levels of groundwater contamination, including arsenic (over 6 times the limit), chromium (10 times the limit), lead (over twice the limit), barium (nearly twice the limit), manganese (192 times the limit), and selenium.
February 11, 2016 – After Friends of Bolin Creek raised concerns about construction of a new section of greenway along the coal ash dump site, DEQ instructs the Town of Chapel Hill not to proceed with construction without further testing of contaminated soil, citing "suspected coal ash deposits" in the area where the construction and new greenway would be located. DEQ also informs the Town of Chapel Hill it must disclose all coal ash contamination to any prospective purchasers before it can sell or transfer the Police Station property.
October 23, 2015 – N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ, formerly DENR) directs the Town of Chapel Hill to test for more pollutants in the groundwater. It also instructs the town to map the site’s groundwater flow. N.C. DEQ expresses concern that coal ash may be eroding from a steep slope above the public greenway.
July 2015 – The Town of Chapel Hill re-samples new, deeper wells, but does not sample the older well. Results from the new wells contain measurable levels of barium and boron that are below legal limits.
May 2015 – The Town of Chapel Hill installs two deeper monitoring wells at new locations further east on the site. Later that month, it takes samples. Results from these new wells and one existing well contain high levels of arsenic (11 times the limit), total chromium (46 times the limit), lead (nearly 6 times the limit), and barium. Later, the town’s report states the new wells had not yet stabilized.
October 3, 2014 – The Town of Chapel Hill submits unfiltered sampling results in response to N.C. DENR’s request. Results show high levels of arsenic (5 times the limit), hexavalent chromium (428 times the “Do Not Drink” health screening level), total chromium (nearly 8 times the limit), lead (twice the limit), and barium.
September 19, 2014 – N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) informs the Town of Chapel Hill its recent filtered sampling results were “not valid.” It also says the town’s statements about groundwater not being impacted are contradicted by the data. N.C. DENR requests additional unfiltered sampling results.
September 2, 2014 – In another round of sampling, the Town of Chapel Hill filters the groundwater before testing it and claims the results show the groundwater has not been contaminated.
March 2014 – Sampling of two new groundwater wells reveals high levels of arsenic (14 times the limit), total chromium (93 times the limit), lead (more than 16 times the limit), barium (more than 9 times the limit), selenium (nearly 5 times the limit), and mercury.
July 2013 – The Town of Chapel Hill hires an environmental consultant to test groundwater. Testing reveals high levels of arsenic (8.5 times the regulatory limit), barium, total chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, lead, manganese, thallium and zinc.
What Should the Town Do?
Nearly four years after the discovery of its coal ash dump, the Town of Chapel Hill maintains a webpage concerning the dump site but has yet to propose any plans to remove the coal ash.
That’s not good enough – Chapel Hill needs to remove the coal ash to safe, lined storage away from our public greenway, our groundwater, and our creek!
Cleanup success story in South Carolina: "Arsenic levels decline in pollution tests at LR coal plant," Sammy Fretwell, The State (SC)