Faircloth’s lead finding lands him state award

fr fairclothHarold Faircloth was recently named Environmental Specialist of the Year in North Carolina after uncovering widespread lead contamination in private wells throughout Macon County.

“I had been so busy with my duties and responsibilities in my position in addition to my research and analysis of the lead in private drinking water wells that I didn’t expect anything,” he said about his award. “I feel as though I have been admitted to a special fraternity of achievers and scholars involved with environmental health.”

Shouldering the cost of Haywood’s old landfill contamination

Underground contamination leaching from an old, closed-down landfill in Haywood County will cost millions to clean up, a burden homeowners countywide will be forced to bear through higher trash fees over the coming decade.

County commissioners got their first glimpse this month at how much each household will have to chip in over the next 10 years to pay for the cleanup.

Lead contamination found in soil near SCC shooting range

fr sccshootingrangeResults are back from the first round of testing for lead at Southwestern Community College’s shooting range, and the conclusion is that there’s plenty of lead to go around. In the area 15 to 20 feet downslope from the range, lead levels are as much as 73 times higher than the safe amount, occurring in concentrations of 19,700 mg/kg 0 to 6 inches below the surface and 5,320 mg/kg 2 to 3 feet below the surface. 

Public hearing set for landfill problem

Jackson County’s old solid waste landfill is leaking contaminants in higher concentrations than allowed into the groundwater, and satisfying state demands to safely contain the situation will cost taxpayer dollars.

Altamont Inc. representative Joel Lenk told commissioners this week that drinking water in the area has not been contaminated and is safe to use. The old landfill is less than a mile from Dillsboro. Several families living near the it rely on individually drilled wells for water, according to a report based on the company’s findings.

Altamont, headquartered in Asheville, collects water-monitoring samples at the old landfill for Jackson County.

Commissioners this week set a public hearing — as mandated by the regulating agency, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources — on possible remedies. The hearing will be held Feb. 7 at 1:30 p.m. After that, the next step will be to develop a state-approved corrective action plan, Lenk said.

The most expensive remedy, which involves treating the groundwater at the site, could cost more than $1 million. Responding to questions by Chairman Jack Debnam, Lenk said, however, the county will probably be able to pay his company an additional $10,000 per year for sampling and to satisfy the state.

Debnam, newly elected in November, initially proposed setting the hearing time for 1:45 p.m., with a regularly scheduled meeting starting at 2 p.m. Mark Jones, a veteran commissioner on the board, suggested moving the time back because, he said to Debnam, “you might draw a bigger crowd” than realized given the possible environmental implications.

Jones’ concerns that holding a public hearing during working hours might not give people an adequate opportunity to attend, however, were brushed aside. Debnam pointed out the board would be providing people the state-required 30 days notice.


Landfill timeline

• Groundwater sampling starts in 1998, Altamont company hired.

• Jackson County starts testing residential water-supply wells on annual basis in the late 1990s from residents who consented to sampling.

• At the same time, Jackson County installed and began monitoring landfill gas probes along the perimeter of the property.

• The last shipment of waste was taken at the landfill in June 2001.

• A monitoring well was installed into bedrock in 2004 to determine whether impacted groundwater was migrating northward toward a residential water well.

• In 2005, a full-scale operation of extracting landfill gas started. It was thought that the removal of the gas could provide benefits to groundwater quality.

• In July 2010, an additional bedrock monitoring well was installed to evaluate groundwater quality in fractured bedrock southwest of the landfill.

EPA begins soil removal in Barber’s Orchard

Six years after the Environmental Protection Agency said it would cart away the arsenic-tainted topsoil from Haywood County’s Barber’s Orchard subdivision, the trucks are set to begin hauling out the contaminated earth by this December.

The site, once an apple orchard, is now a residential neighborhood and an EPA-designated Superfund site. It was the scene of an emergency clean-up effort in the late 1990s when it was discovered that hazardous pesticides pumped through the orchard’s underground irrigation network had, over time, seeped through rusty, unstable pipes and into soil and groundwater.

The EPA is now mobilizing to clear up contamination that’s still lingering in much of the soil in the subdivision, but the groundwater cleanup won’t be part of the effort.

“We are removing the top foot of soil from the areas that are contaminated,” said Jon Bornholm, the EPA Project Manager that’s in charge of the cleanup. “That encompasses about 80 acres.”

The quandary surrounding where to put the polluted soil, however, remains unresolved. When the EPA handed down its decision in 2004, saying that the dirty dirt must go, the issue of exactly where it must go to became a bone of contention in the county.

The suggestion to dump it into the county’s White Oak landfill drew ire from then-county manager Jack Horton, who contended that taking on the bad soil would be too costly and use too much room in the small landfill.

“There’s so much dirt that has to be taken out of Barber’s Orchard, that it would completely fill up our existing cell. What would we do with our garbage then?” he said.

At the time, some Barber’s Orchard residents favored the plan because it was predicted to cut the cleanup time — which was projected to be around 10 years — nearly in half, and many property owners were less-than-pleased with the prospect of sitting on virtually useless property for a decade.

But now, according to Bornholm, the project is slated for completion in September 2011, whether or not the waste is dumped in or out of the county.

“All of it is to be disposed of offsite and those offsite options are still being evaluated,” said Bornholm. “We’re looking at some of the local landfills, and if we can’t find a nearby landfill, then our fallback position is to take it to the Republic landfill in South Carolina.”

Republic, a sanitation company that has placed a bid to take over operations at Haywood County’s White Oak landfill, operates a mega-landfill in Lee County, S.C., that accepts waste from around the nation.

Bornholm said once the operation ramps up in earnest, workers will be at the site 10 hours a day, Monday through Friday and at least half a day each Saturday until the job is complete. The EPA estimates around 127,374 cubic yards of contaminated soil will be trucked away.

While most sites will only have the top foot skimmed off, the 16 sites that showed contamination below the one-foot mark will have two feet of soil excavated.

Altogether, the former orchard site encompasses 438 acres in Waynesville that was sliced up and sold piecemeal after the orchard went bankrupt in 1988.

The groundwater contamination that was a result of the same leaky pipes, Bornholm said, was part of a separate EPA case and no verdict has yet come down on what should be done to remedy the issue. A decision is expected by September of next year.

Preliminary work is currently underway to prepare the site for the 100 to 120 trucks that will be rolling through the facility daily during the cleanup.

Page 2 of 2
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.