NC Senator Stan Bingham Calls for EPA Criminal Investigation of Alcoa

Senator Stan Bingham (R-Davidson County) has formally requested that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigate Alcoa Power Generating, Inc., a subsidiary of Alcoa, Inc., for violations against the Clean Water Act relating to that company’s pollution of the Yadkin River.

A recent tip from an anonymous current employee alleges that for years Alcoa has been knowingly releasing large quantities of raw hydraulic oil and mechanical grease through the dams at its hydroelectric turbines at the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project, which incorporates four reservoirs on the Yadkin River.

Senator Bingham sent a letter to EPA Criminal Investigations in Atlanta on November 24th after a whistleblower spoke to investigative reporter Keith Barber at the Triad publication Yes! Weekly. The source alleged that Alcoa’s antiquated hydroelectric equipment at the dams, possibly including leaky turbine seals, was the likely cause of this long-standing and still ongoing release of environmental contaminants into the River. When questioned about the claim, Alcoa refused to answer. (The story appeared in the publication’s Nov. 10 edition, see http://npaper-wehaa.com/yes-weekly/2010/11/10/?g=print#?article=1070409.)

The senator’s request preceded a Dec. 1 announcement by the N.C. Department of Natural Resources (NC DENR) that it was revoking the 401 Water Quality Certification it issued to Alcoa in 2009. During a now-suspended trial in Raleigh related to the certification’s merit, internal Alcoa emails revealed that Alcoa had intentionally withheld information from the state agency in order to obtain the certification. Alcoa knew, but failed to disclose, that its dissolved oxygen improvements in Tuckertown Dam would not meet water quality standards based on the dam’s usual outflow.

“When I heard Alcoa lied to the NC DENR during the trial, I could not help but wonder what else Alcoa might have lied about,” said Senator Bingham. “I am glad I requested the investigation because it has become more apparent than ever that Alcoa has a long track record of being deceitful to the public and to our regulatory agencies. Unfortunately, Alcoa has seldom been held accountable for their actions,” he added. 

Allegations of Alcoa’s illegal oil dumping into the Yadkin River surfaced earlier this year. Senator Bingham contacted the FBI this past summer to inquire about a potential investigation. But when these allegations surfaced again in YES! Weekly Bingham felt compelled to write a formal request asking the EPA to investigate. Alcoa has insisted that the company has been a good environmental steward of North Carolina’s natural resources.

“Based on the article, there appears to be a regular and ongoing discharge of hydraulic oil, possibly laden with PCB’s, and mechanical grease into the Yadkin River,” said Senator Bingham. “Furthermore, the turbines at Alcoa’s older dams may have been leaking these toxic compounds for many decades,” he said. “Thus, the extent and scope of Alcoa’s contamination of the Yadkin River may be even greater than is being reported in this news article.”

PCB contamination was recently linked to Alcoa at Badin Lake, a 5,300-acre body of water below Tuckertown Dam that flows into the Yadkin River. The lake is one of four reservoirs along a 38-mile stretch of the Yadkin that comprise the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project. Environmental concerns associated with Alcoa’s now-defunct aluminum smelter at Baden Lake have persisted for decades and include allegations that Alcoa has consistently discharged contaminants such as PCBs into the air, land and waterways in the area.  

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NC DENR) issued a fish consumption advisory for Badin Lake Feb. 11, 2009 after elevated PCB levels were found in fish caught at the reservoir. The advisory was specifically targeted toward pregnant and/or nursing women, and children under age 15, as PCBs are carcinogens that have been associated with health risks such as anemia; damage to the liver, stomach or thyroid; changes in the immune and reproductive systems; acne-like skin conditions; and behavioral problems. Alcoa has repeatedly denied that PCB-contaminated fish in Badin Lake are linked to PCB’s from its smelting facility.

A report issued by EPA to NC DENR on February 24th, 2010, “EPA Review Comments for Badin Lake Documents” definitively linked PCB contamination in Badin Lake to Alcoa. NC DENR also issued two Notices of Violation (NOVs) to Alcoa earlier this year, on Feb. 22, 2010 and again on May 20, 2010, for cyanide violations at Badin Lake. Cyanide is a highly toxic chemical, the exposure to which has the potential to cause grave environmental and human health effects. High exposure in humans affects the brain and heart, and may cause convulsions, low blood pressure, slow heart rate, loss of consciousness, lung injury, respiratory failure, coma, or death. Even lower exposure may cause breathing difficulties, heart trouble, vomiting, blood changes, headaches, and enlargement of the thyroid.

Alcoa produced aluminum at its Badin Works from 1917 to 2007. The aluminum smelting process involves a number of highly toxic chemicals, including cyanide, fluoride, and PCBs. A 2001 Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) study revealed that some of the land at the Baden site is contaminated with these chemicals. In 1995 DENR issued an NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) permit to set limits and monitoring requirements for the discharge of these chemicals and to ensure Alcoa’s compliance. Alcoa has violated the provisions of its NPDES permit numerous times since 1995, yet the facility has ceased production of aluminum.

“I think many of the environmental and human health issues linked to Alcoa are only beginning to come to light,” said Senator Bingham. “We need a full scale investigation and eventual remediation of the Alcoa site.”

Alcoa must receive a 401 Water Quality Certification before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will consider approving its application for a renewal of a 50-year license to continue operating dams along the Yadkin River. Badin Lake is one of the reservoirs for the Project that Alcoa has overseen for decades.

“I hope the EPA will pursue a thorough investigation to get to the truth of whatever misdeeds Alcoa has allowed to occur during its neglectful stewardship of the Yadkin River, and that the results will confirm Alcoa does not deserve a 50-year federal license because of its activities and pattern of misbehavior. Alcoa is a known global polluter and a bad corporate citizen,” said Senator Bingham.

About Senator Stan Bingham

Senator Stan Bingham is from Denton, NC and currently represents constituents from District 33. Stan Bingham has served as State Senator since 2001. He previously served as the Chair/Vice Chair, Davidson County Commissioner, 1990-1994. Stan has a B.S. in Forestry from North Carolina State University (1968). Stan is the Founder/Owner, Lumber Company and founder of The Denton Orator. Stan is a community leader serving on the following boards and committees:

Board Member, Communities in School, 2002-present
Chair/Teacher, Junior Achievement, Davidson County, 1995-present
Board of Directors, First Bank, 1988-present
Steering Committee, Vision 2000, 1999
President, Davidson County Animal Center, 1996-1999
Board Member, Triad Tarheel Girl Scouts, 1993-1996
Board Member, American Children's Home, 1991-1994
Board Member, United Way

Caucuses/Non-Legislative Committees:
Vice-Chair, Economic Development Board, Davidson County, 1991-1994
Member, Child Fatality Task Force
Member, Legislative Study Commission on Children and Youth

Legislative Committees:
Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources, Member
Appropriations/Base Budget, Member
Health Care, Co-Chair
Judiciary II (Criminal), Member
Pensions, and Retirement, and Aging, Member
Rules and Operations of the Senate, Member
Subcommittee on Justice and Public Safety, Member
Ways and Means, Member

Media Contact:
Senator Stan Bingham
292 N Main St.
Denton, NC 27239
stanb@ncleg.net