Defunct Textile Plant Threatens Fayetteville, N.C. Drinking Water

A long-abandoned textile mill is being blamed for ground water contamination near Fayetteville, North Carolina. According to a report from the Fayetteville Observer, it would cost $50 million to clean up the toxic plume now threatening Fayetteville drinking water for 200,000 residents, and there isn’t enough money available to even properly monitor the contamination.

The toxic plume originated with the now-abandoned Texfi textile mill that was situated next to the city’s water treatment plant. Officials have known about the plume since the 1990s, but recently learned it had sunk to 30 feet deep and bypassed a clay barrier – a so-called slurry wall – built in 2001. Rather than stopping the contamination’s spread toward the city’s stored supply of treated drinking water, it appears the slurry wall may have actually been drawing contaminants toward the water storage tanks, the Observer said. An October 2010 document from the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources shows that the tank now “sits in contact with contaminated groundwater.”

The plume consists of industrial solvents called <"">tetrachlorothylene, or PCE. These chemicals are known to cause cancer. In May, a report from an environmental consultant found that samples taken from a monitoring well next to a storage tank contained concentrations of PCE at 2,300 times the acceptable limits. So far, no contaminated groundwater has breached the water storage tank.

According to the Fayetteville Observer, the Texfi land ranks as the 33rd worst hazardous waste site in the state. State officials have sent letters to more than 400 Texfi employees in an effort to understand the defunct company’s disposal practices, but only two responded with little helpful information.

So far, the federal government has been unwilling to help with the Texfi cleanup through its Superfund program. The city of Fayetteville obtained title to the Texfi property and wants to redevelop it. It is currently negotiating a Brownfield agreement with the state that would essentially waive any future liability for contamination as the new owner, the Observer said. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also approved an in-kind grant for technical assistance evaluating the contamination and recommending steps to clean-up the contamination. City officials are also applying for other EPA grants.

For now, the city has plans to dig an interceptor trench to catch the plume before it can enter the river. Funding for that is coming from $941,000 set aside for toxic cleanup in the Texfi bankruptcy. The state legislature appropriated $50,000 this summer for monitoring and cleanup at Texfi.

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