Archived News

Lead cleanup poised to start at SCC

Lead cleanup poised to start at SCC

After more than two years of tests and evaluations, the end is now in sight for an effort to remove 450 tons of lead-contaminated soil from a shooting range at Southwestern Community College. The job will cost $237,000, but by the end of the summer the soil should be excavated, treated, hauled away and replaced with new, uncontaminated soil.

“We’re moving as fast as we can, but we’re trying to make sure we’re hitting all the right checklists to make sure it’s all done right,” said Jim Bevers, environmental project manager with ECS Carolinas, the company whose consulting services SCC has enlisted on the issue. 

The shooting range, which is used for law enforcement training, has been around for more than three decades, with the clay berm at the end of it consistently pelted with lead bullets during that time, accumulating an estimated 60 tons of lead, with the Tuckasegee River flowing just downhill. 

That realization led the school to begin working with the Department of Environmental Quality in 2014 to test the area for contamination.  Because the range is still active, the lead doesn’t have to be removed from the berm itself, though SCC has been working to implement best management practices to reduce lead accumulation and spread in the future. 

Elevated lead levels, however, were discovered in an area downhill from the range itself. According to Bevers, that’s because at some point, somewhere during the shooting range’s lifetime, someone moved lead-contaminated soil from the range to another spot on the property. While tests revealed no lead contamination in the nearby Tuckasegee, it became imperative to fix the problem before a water quality issue resulted. 

The school thought it was all ready to move ahead on the project at the end of 2015, but a staff transition at the DEQ led to a new case manager who recommended another round of testing to look for a new round of contaminants. Testing revealed elevated levels of arsenic, antimony and PAHs — polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, compounds that are produced during combustion.  

Related Items

Bevers said the test results won’t impact the cleanup plan, however. The same treatment planned to neutralize lead in the soil will work on arsenic and antimony, and PAH isn’t something landfills worry about when deciding whether or not to accept a load. 

SCC had two choices when it came to getting rid of the soil: get it treated on-site so it could be disposed of at any run-of-the-mill landfill, or get it hauled away untreated to one of the country’s few hazardous waste landfills. Bids for the two options came in nearly identical, with the hazardous disposal quoted at $1,000 more than the non-hazardous disposal. 

“Treating it pretty much prepares you to have a very minimal if at all liability issue that would fall back on either the college or the county,” Don Tomas, SCC’s president, told Jackson County Commissioners. “Untreated, there are things that could potentially happen en route.”

If disposed as hazardous, the soil would have to be hauled all the way to Michigan, with the company paying specially licensed truckers and a higher tipping fee to get the job done. If a truck were to get into an accident and spill its load somewhere along the way, SCC would be liable. And if, perhaps decades from now, lead contamination were found at the landfill, it could be traced back to the college, which would still be liable. 

“I think the driving factor in choosing treatment on-site is there’s much less liability down the road, literally and figuratively,” Bevers said. 

Commissioners approved SCC’s recommendation last week to accept a bid from Salisbury-based Contaminant Control for $190,000. While SCC is in charge of the project, the college deferred to commissioners to approve the bid, as the undertaking would be funded from the county budget. 

Completing the job will also require a $47,000 payment to ECS, which will oversee the project and conduct follow-up environmental sampling to ensure that soil underneath the hauled-off portion is indeed uncontaminated. That brings the total cost of the cleanup to $237,000.

Bevers hopes to see work begin in the next couple of weeks. From there, the project will take about a month to complete. 

“I think SCC is doing what needs to be done,” said Commissioner Vicki Greene. 

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.