EPA begins Superfund evaluation of coal ash site in Chapel Hill

A Superfund sign example, photo courtesy of EPA.


By Michelle Cassell
Managing Editor 

An evaluation of 828 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard as a potential Superfund site officially began on Tuesday after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined the Oct. 18 petition from the Center for Diversity meets its requirements.

Sandra Bramble, site assessment manager in the Restoration and Site Evaluation  Section (RSES) of the Superfund and Emergency Management Division at the U.S. EPA, Region 4, said in an email (obtained with permission by TLR) to Perrin de Jong, Southeast Staff Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity, “The EPA has reviewed your request and determined that your letter meets the requirements of 40 Code of Federal Regulation which allows any person who is, or may be, affected by a release or threatened release of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants, to petition the EPA to conduct a PA [Preliminary Assessment]. Therefore, the EPA will enter this site into its active PA database and initiate the PA.”

Technically, the EPA has one year to complete its report, but Bramble said,

“While our regulations require the EPA to complete a PA within one year of the receipt of a written request, we understand your concerns and will conduct the PA as expeditiously as possible. Once finalized, the PA report will be sent to you [de Jong] and the Center for Biological Diversity.”

Derek Matory, Manager, Restoration and Site Evaluation Branch, Superfund Emergency Management Division, wrote in an attached letter to de Jong, “The PA is designed to determine whether a site poses a threat to human health or the environment and whether the threat requires further investigation. The PA investigation includes a site visit and a review of any existing site information, including the data that the Town of Chapel Hill has collected. This information is used to evaluate the pathways through which the contamination might migrate and identify populations and environments that the contamination may threaten. Generally, environmental samples are not collected as part of a PA. If the PA results in a recommendation for further investigation, a Site Inspection will be conducted.”

The controversial coal ash dump site was reported on last week by TLR when the EPA showed that coal ash is more toxic than it had previously determined:

“New findings from the EPA indicate that coal ash is more hazardous than they had previously thought. The recent EPA draft risk assessment report was compiled in October 2023 and recently released in an 82-page document. The findings show that even low levels of arsenic and gamma radiation, which are both present in coal ash residuals (CCRs), increase cancer risk.

This is 35 times higher than previously acknowledged in an earlier EPA risk assessment. The report also finds that depending on the level of exposure, other potentially critical health problems, such as high blood levels of arsenic and cadmium, are linked to a greater risk of heart disease and stroke.

The coal ash dump is located at 828 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It encompasses approximately 60,000 cubic yards of coal ash and construction byproduct contaminants. The current Chapel Hill Police Department is located there and is situated on 10 acres of Bolin Creek Parkway, which is included in the cleanup.”

Michelle Cassell is a seasoned reporter who has covered everything from crime to hurricanes and local politics to human interest over the course of 35 years. As managing editor, she hopes to encourage writers of a wide range of backgrounds and interests in TLR’s coverage of Southern Orange County news. 

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