The Town of Chapel Hill’s Police Station property is located at 828 Martin Luther King Boulevard and consists of approximately 10 acres. This map shows the town's estimate of the size of the coal ash dump.
In the 1960s and 1970s, coal ash was dumped in a former borrow pit area on the property. In 1980, the Town of Chapel Hill acquired the Police Station property from a private owner. 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.
What's the Problem?
After soil tests showed high levels of contaminants along the Bolin Creek greenway and continued groundwater contamination, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality 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."
Numerous tests of the groundwater and soil at the coal ash dump site have found high levels of dangerous pollutants. The coal ash dump is on a steep slope above the public greenway and Bolin Creek, so the groundwater and surface runoff from the dump flow directly to the greenway and the creek.
What Do the Documents Say?
A 2013 environmental consultant’s report on the coal ash dump states, “Groundwater sampled at the site has been impacted from leaching of the fly ash.” (Fly ash is fine-grained coal ash.) The report also noted, “Groundwater appears to be impacting Bolin Creek.” Moreover, the report says, “Surface water sampled from Bolin Creek exhibited results indicative of environmental contamination above established action levels.”
To date, the Town of Chapel Hill has drilled groundwater monitoring wells, taken water and soil samples, and produced various reports, but has not agreed to remove the coal ash. You should know the test results and latest information:
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 three 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!