NC Watch: Buncombe’s Cover-Up of the American Enka/BASF Hazardous Waste Site
Deed restrictions on the property do not allow for playgrounds or schools, daycare facilities or well water. Some would question whether soccer or ballfields should be there. Testing for contaminants has been inadequate and there has been no follow-up when results show excessive amounts of toxins in the soil, air or water. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality or NC DEQ (formerly Environmental and Natural Resources or NC DENR) allows the polluter to hire their own environmental testing company, taking objectivity out of the equation. NC DEQ determines what they test for and in this case, many of the chemical toxins in the landfill were never on the list.
So what makes the BASF/American Enka Brownfield so dangerous?
The EPA has documented that 30 tons of coal ash were dumped daily into the unlined 41 acre landfill, beginning in 1929. The American Enka power plant used 250 tons of coal each day to supply residential and industrial electricity.
Coal ash contains concentrated amounts of uranium and thorium which are radioactive.
Coal ash also contains contains concentrated amounts of heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium chromium and selenium, which are hazardous/carcinogenic to human health and to wildlife.
Toxic chemicals used in the production of nylon and rayon were also dumped into the unlined landfill along with the coal ash.
In 2006 carbon disulfide levels exceeded state soil standards by 3,700 percent, causing an explosion and fire as it self-combusted when exposed to air.
Deed restrictions prohibit schools, daycares, playgrounds and water wells on the property.
In the early 1980’s American Enka workers filed worker’s compensation lawsuits due to illness and even death related to their exposure to chemicals used in producing nylon and/or rayon. They won the landmark case.
The landfill isn’t the only concern on the nearly 250 acre American Enka/BASF hazardous waste site. It is currently home to the ABYSA soccer fields and the AB Tech Enka campus. The Enka campus is located in the former American Enka administration/research complex. AB Tech’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to close the campus last year, beginning with the Enka campus Haynes building, closing on October 1, 2015. The other buildings, including the one housing the Blue Ridge Food Ventures, will close “as soon as is practicable.” In touring the buildings on the campus, one of the Board of Trustees members fell ill; another Board member said “it [OTM structure] was a sick building. ” At their June 22, 2015 meeting it became apparent that the campus was being shut down due to contamination concerns. Board of Trustees member Mike Fryar and the Board attorney Chad Donahoo made this point in their remarks.
Unfortunately, public officials and the media have largely ignored the contamination and made little, if any, efforts to protect the public. For years, engaged citizens, like Jerry Rice, Davyne Dial, Don Yelton, Linda Humphries and this columnist, have been making public record requests from the EPA and the N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources regarding the American Enka/BASF 242 acre hazardous waste site. We have met with WLOS, Asheville Citizen-Times and Mountain Xpress reporters, shared our concerns about the toxic chemicals and coal ash on the property, with Jerry Rice even sending the data on CD’s to the media, county commissioners and school board. As a Buncombe citizen, parent, and former school board member, I, along with others, have sent written comments and spoken out during public hearings on the American Enka/BASF brownfields and at county commission and school board meetings. Our most immediate concerns are the prospect of putting youth softball fields, greenways and recreation facilities on a portion of the American Enka/BASF unlined landfill/coal ash pit. We’ve also questioned the wisdom of putting the new intermediate school just 1,500 feet from the landfill.
But public officials and the media ignored our pleas. We’ve butted heads with the powers that be, even organizations that purport to “care about children and the environment.” The media has slandered us.
We are conservative members of the community, not part of the Buncombe County “good old boy/girl network” of Democrats and Republicans. We’ve been verbally chastised by Candler residents Michelle Pace Wood, Emily Dezio and John Sutton, Jr. who put their wants before the truth. Garret Artz and other Friends of Connect Buncombe ignored our attempts, instead they continued to push for greenways on this toxic property without appropriate clean-up. Even Democrat legislators with full knowledge of the problem – Brian Turner, John Ager and Susan Fisher – have turned a blind eye to it.
The county commissioners voted unanimously for their cronies, the Enka Partners (Martin Lewis, Ken Wilson, Ken Murphy) to receive $1.3 million from taxpayer coffers for youth softball fields on the landfill. This happened before the Enka Partners formed a non-profit, the Enka Youth Sports Organization (EYSO), to initiate the project. Commissioner Joe Belcher now serves on the EYSO Board. The Tourism and Development Authority committed $2 million in tax dollars for the project as well. Citizens now stand to lose the $3.3 million to BASF for violating the deed restrictions.
But when those engaged citizens, fighting the powers that be, met with Julie Mayfield of Mountain True, she contacted the Southern Environmental Law Center. After conducting independent tests, and studying previous tests, these two groups have joined us in a bi-partisan fight for common sense and safety.
Much more must be done before this site is safe. Please let your legislators and county officials know you are concerned, too. Research has shown that exposing developing children to hazardous chemicals can have serious health ramifications. According to the World Health Organization, children are not little adults; they have special vulnerabilities to the toxic effects of chemicals. Children’s exposure to chemicals at critical stages in their physical and cognitive development may have severe long-term consequences for health. Anyone with compromised immune systems or susceptibility could potentially be affected. More voices are needed to protect our children. Please contact email@example.com if you want more information or to help.