Bobby Kennedy Jr. Joins Riverkeeper in Fight Against Alcoa

Robert “Bobby” F. Kennedy Jr. joined Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks at Badin Lake on Thursday, touring the lake near areas of Alcoa Power Generating Inc.’s Badin Works facility, as Naujoks continues to pressure Alcoa to clean up PCB contamination he alleges was the result of the company’s aluminum smeltering.

Kennedy is the founder and president of Waterkeeper Alliance, which licenses all “Riverkeeper” programs for members of the alliance. Kennedy, an ardent environmentalist, is also the chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper and has filed several lawsuits against companies said to have polluted the river — most notably a suit against General Electric for PCB contamination dating back to 1947.

Naujoks has called for numerous investigations by the Environmental Protection Agency into Alcoa’s alleged cyanide and PCB contamination. Alcoa has long denied its processes have contributed to PCBs found in Badin Lake. Naujoks pointed to 2010 EPA findings that show PCB levels from fish found in Badin Lake are within standards of “limited consumption,” meaning one fish per week. The findings go on to say that with the current sediment concentrations at the Alcoa outfall occurring at concentrations greater than industrial standards, fish may continue to bioaccumulate PCBs to greater concentrations.

“For Alcoa to say that they had nothing to do with the contamination of this fish, this proves that PCBs that Alcoa produced that are in this lake came from the PCBs that they produced.”

Naujoks showed Kennedy areas around the lake where he says Alcoa discharged PCB contaminated soil through outfalls into Badin Lake. He shared his plans to reveal fish studies his organization conducted over the summer in which Naujoks says they found high levels of PCB in fish and mussels.

Kennedy said the findings in fish are much more concerning than levels of PCB found in surface water testing and sediment samples.

“The function of a bioaccumulation is really important to understand because if you drank a gallon of water for one year, you would get fewer PCBs in your system than if you ate one bite of a filet of a stripped bass,” he said. “All the PCBs that were eaten by that fish remain in its system for its lifetime.”

Naujoks talked about the stripping of Alcoa’s water quality certification by the N.C. Division of Water Quality last year and questioned how the federal government could rationalize granting the corporation another 50-year license to control the water for its Yadkin Hydroelectric Project. Alcoa can’t receive another license without the certification. The matter has been tied up in litigation since the state revoked it last December.

“I don’t know how the state can issue a 401 Water Quality Certification if they know PCBs are transporting through this dam (Falls Reservoir on Badin Lake),” Naujoks said. “People are catching fish that are contaminated, there are no warning signs, in terms of impact to water quality and aquatic life, we’re seeing that this is a much greater issue. There are a lot of issues at play here.”

Naujoks said the matter is on schedule to go to trial next year.

Kennedy’s presence represents the second acclaimed name to share his cause, as Naujoks received support from a speech last year by activist Erin Brokovich. Kennedy, who spoke in Winston-Salem on Thursday night, was eager to join the fight, Naujoks said. Kennedy also has a connection to the area. His uncle, former President John F. Kennedy, designated the Uwharrie Forest, which includes portions of Badin Lake, in the 1960s.

“Having Bobby’s presence here, who knows about these issues, who’s dealt with this issue directly with General Electric, I think he can bring some good examples,” he said. “He just helps bring more attention to the issue. He likes to come to the front lines and see what’s going on.”

Kennedy, who likened Alcoa to “criminals” for their lack of responsibility, said the issues surrounding Badin Lake are hugely important.

“This is a much larger issue than what happens with this body of water,” he said. “This is really about a story about this diversion of democracy and the capture of the (government) agencies that are supposed to protect us from pollution. This is what I see all over the country. Public officials are blackmailed and bribed by big companies, and people are offended.”

Story by David Bodenheimer, The Dispatch