For seven years, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources has known Raleigh Metal Recycling's property is contaminated with PCBs and other pollutants. And after seven years, DENR and the company have yet to clean up the contamination, which is now discharging into a local stream that empties into the Neuse River Basin.
DENR's Division of Water Resources Raleigh Regional Office issued a violation notice to the owner of Raleigh Metal Recycling, 2310 Garner Road, on March 28. That's a month after sampling showed high levels of contamination at the site—and days after an INDY inquiry about clean-up plans there.
Since 2007, Raleigh Metal Recycling has been working with DENR's Waste Management Division on a plan to clean up PCBs, also known as polychlorinated biphenyls, and volatile organic compounds in the soil and groundwater. And last summer, the City of Raleigh notified DENR of the ongoing issues on the property.
Samples collected by DENR Jan. 11 from four locations on the property contained "extremely high concentrations of lead, cadmium, mercury, PCBs, nickel, copper and zinc," according to the violation notice.
"There are no drinking wells in the area so any groundwater is not being consumed by any individual," said Cathy Akroyd, spokesperson for the Waste Management Division.
However, groundwater is not the only concern. According to water resources documents, DENR staff visited the property in January and saw water, later found to be contaminated, discharging through an underground drain.
The runoff flows from the property along nearby railroad tracks through a pipe and into an outlet that discharges into an unnamed tributary to Wildcat Branch stream, surface water that is publicly accessible. Workers at the recycling company may also have been exposed to contaminated soil.
PCBs are known to cause cancer. They were used as coolants and lubricants in car parts and other electrical devices until 1977, when the federal government banned their manufacture because of evidence that the buildup of PCBs in the environment was harmful to human health.
However, PCBs can still be found in old equipment, and are among the most pervasive and persistent contaminants in the U.S. and worldwide.
Raleigh Metal Recycling was a junkyard for cars in the 1940s, and began recycling scrap metal in the 1960s. Its soil has been contaminated likely since the recycling business started, Akroyd said.
Raleigh officials have been concerned about runoff from the property since at least last August. That's when an adjacent land owner complained that contaminated water was being discharged from the site onto his property.
Mark Senior, manager of Raleigh's stormwater program, said when city inspectors visited the site, they saw that the company was pumping accumulated water "visibly contaminated with petroleum products and sediment" onto an adjacent property.
That violated Raleigh's illicit discharge law; the City issued the company a citation on Aug. 21. Company CEO Greg Brown was not fined because he cleaned up his site, and the neighbor's, by the city's deadline.
Yet City inspections also revealed that the company had violated its DENR-issued stormwater permit. Senior recommended to DENR staff that the company be issued a more restrictive one, but it's unclear if that has happened.
The City hired an environmental services firm to sample water from the site at two outfalls on two occasions. In December, the City received a set of samples from the site confirming high levels of PCBs. The City passed the results along to DENR, which did its own sampling in January.
In late February, the Division of Water Resources received the results of its own samples and then issued the violation notice.
"It's a complicated violation," said Danny Smith, the supervisor of Water Quality Operations in the Raleigh Regional Office. "There's lots of data and it just takes time to produce a violation notice and we have a lot of other issues going on."
Raleigh Metal Recycling has hired engineering design firm McAdams to develop a stormwater management plan to prevent contaminated water from leaving the property. However, on Jan. 30, Senior wrote to City and DENR staff that he had received a draft of that plan, noting it "seemed to lack any substantive controls."
Kim Caulk of the waste management division said a Registered Environmental Consultant—an outside consultant approved by DENR to act on behalf of the property owner— is waiting on an EPA permit to address the PCB cleanup.
Brown has 30 days to respond to the violation notice in writing before civil penalties of up to $25,000 a day can be assessed against the company.
"We're working with all parties involved to do everything possible to get all the issues resolved," Brown said.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Heavy metal"