Alcoa Knew About Contamination it Caused in Badin Lake in 1997

Alcoa knew it had contamination in Badin Lake caused by its old smelting operation near the lake 12 years ago, but hid that investigation from the public, indicating a pattern of deceit regarding its environmental record which continues to the present as it refuses to admit its smelter generated cancer-causing PCBs in Badin Lake as proven by an independent study.

The Yadkin Riverkeeper intends to use this revelation in court when a full appeal occurs over whether the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) improperly awarded Alcoa a 401 Water Quality Certification in May for the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project, which includes Badin Lake as one of its reservoirs that generate hydropower for Alcoa. Alcoa needs the certification before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will consider its application for another 50-year license to continue to monopolize and exploit the Project without improving water quality.

Dean Naujoks, the Yadkin Riverkeeper, said the April 1997 document showed Alcoa acted as judge and jury in determining by itself that the PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) it found in the swimming areas and boating ramp of Badin Lake were harmless to humans, and that the same thing can happen if Alcoa is granted another 50-year license for the Project without having any regulation placed upon it. Naujoks believes that along with the discovery of PCBs at both Badin Lake, which resulted in a fish consumption advisory there from the state which Alcoa contested for months, and below the lake beyond Narrows Dam, this news is further evidence that the company does not care about contaminated water and its life-threatening effects on fish and humans who use it for drinking, cleaning and recreational purposes.

“For people who believe that PCBs found in Badin Lake are just a ‘minor inconvenience’ or a recent occurrence, this document will open their eyes,” Naujoks said. “It clearly states that PAHs, which can be carcinogenic, were found in multiple areas of the lake in samples taken over a four-month period. It also notes that ‘The presumed source of the PAH is believed from various processes at the Badin Works smelter operation located across the road from the lake.’

“Using its own consultants to examine them – not an outside expert – Alcoa officials concluded that ‘the investigation did not reveal a substantial risk to public health from exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons located in the sediment of Badin Lake, but the potential exposure was unique enough to warrant 8(c) recordkeeping.’ In other words, they found contamination that could be hazardous to humans in the water, but Alcoa leaders made their own call as to how bad it was and did not let anyone know about this, especially during its initial water quality reviews by DENR and FERC. Is this the way we want health and safety threats to one of North Carolina’s greatest waterways to be addressed for the next 50 years?”

Previous reports of contamination at Badin Lake were the central reason why Naujoks decided to oppose Alcoa’s bid for relicensing when he was appointed the Yadkin Riverkeeper in the fall of 2008. He studied the information carefully and concluded that Alcoa was responsible for discharged pollutants into the air and Stanly County lands and waterways during the operation of the Badin Works smelter. The known contaminants besides PAHs and PCBs include cyanide, fluoride, solvents, metals, hydrocarbons, benzene, naphthalene and methane.

Naujoks also disputes Alcoa’s claim that its Relicensing Settlement Agreement (RSA) it signed with 23 major stakeholders in 2007 will resolve most water quality issues associated with the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project. He notes that while the company said in the agreement it would make a $240 million investment to install aeration technology to improve water quality at its dams, it refuses to post a bond for the same amount to the state as one of the conditions it received from DENR in its 401 Water Quality Certification awaiting a hearing. Naujoks requests that all RSA signatories re-examine their support for the agreement in the wake of the emergence of more facts such as the 1997 document prove that Alcoa’s history of resisting to address its environmental messes make it unworthy of their endorsement for future improved water quality in the Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin.

“It seems to me every day I am learning a new piece of the puzzle regarding Alcoa’s shabby legacy in addressing water quality in the Yadkin, and it both appalls and depresses me,” concluded Naujoks. “The good news is that we can end this scenario and provide a better future for the river and all of us who enjoy it by denying Alcoa’s application as it stands and demanding immediate action and cleanup of the Yakin to make it safer for ourselves and future generations who depend on it.”

1997 Badin Lake Sediment Results Internal Memo