Commentary

Today’s “must read” – Toxic waste site in Columbus County shows impact of lax environmental protection efforts

Current land use near polluted Holtrachem siteIt seems that hardly a day goes by in Raleigh anymore in which some conservative politician, corporate lobbyist or right-wing think tanker isn’t complaining about “burdensome environmental regulations.” The result of this drumbeat over the past five years, of course, has been the dismantling of the state’s environmental protection laws and the agency that was supposed to enforce them.

Most people with any common sense (along with eyes to see and a nose to smell) recognize that this is an absurd state of affairs. If anything, North Carolina’s natural environment is — as both our population and use of resources continues to grow — more endangered than ever.

Still, for those comfortably ensconced in their air conditioned cars and neatly manicured suburbs, the reality of the environmental degradation that plagues our state can be easy to ignore. That’s why stories like Lisa Sorg’s excellent report on the main NC Policy Watch site this morning are so important. As Sorg explains in “In Columbus County, mercury, PCBs and a long-overdue Superfund cleanup point to a larger problem: accountability” the environmental crisis in our state remains just that — a crisis — in many areas. Here’s the introduction:

“The air smells acrid in Riegelwood, where a faint breeze scours your sinuses with the scent of sulfur coming from the International Paper plant. All day long, dozens of semi-trucks, loaded with logs, pull onto John Riegel Road headed for the factory. Here, the wood will be chemically boiled and bleached to make fluff pulp, a material used in disposable diapers.

What you can’t see or smell is nested within International Paper’s property: one of the most contaminated areas in North Carolina. A facility formerly owned by Holtrachem is a hotbed of mercury and cancer-causing PCBs, dioxins and furans. For decades, toxic chemicals from these 24 acres have intermittently drained, at times, even gushed into the nearby Cape Fear River, which runs through Columbus County on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Mercury has poisoned workers and fish. PCBs, so dangerous their manufacture was banned in the U.S. in 1983, still stain the soil….

Holtrachem is one of 39 Superfund sites in North Carolina and 1,300 in the United States. Nationwide, more than 50 million people live within three miles of a site; in Riegelwood, nearly the entire unincorporated town of 597 is within that range of Holtrachem.

And since polluting industries tend to locate in low-income or minority communities, these sites present a host of social justice issues, including damage to health, property values and quality of life. That’s true of Columbus County. A quarter of the population lives at or below the poverty level, yet there are two federal Superfund sites and 14 hazardous waste areas designated by the state.

As a result, these communities often lack sufficient resources to address health and environmental concerns,’ said Mathy Stanislaus, an assistant administrator at the EPA. He spoke at a July hearing of the House Subcommittee on the Environment and Economy, which is scrutinizing the effectiveness of Superfund.”

Use the following link to read the rest of Sorg’s important story and copy and paste it to share it with friends, family and anyone else who tries to tell you that our state has solved its environmental challenges:

http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2016/08/25/in-columbus-county-mercury-pcbs-and-a-long-overdue-superfund-cleanup-point-to-a-larger-problem-accountability/

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