CLAYTON — Part of a future park along the Neuse River is one of two dozen hazardous-waste sites in Johnston County, according to state data.
The state defines inactive hazardous sites as those that have, at some point, been contaminated by unsafe substances. In Clayton, a future nature park on Covered Bridge Road was once a DuPont agrochemical research farm, where the company tested products on row crops and dumped chemicals into a trench.
Some waste sites have long histories of contamination, and the state considers some more hazardous than others. In 2013, the former research farm was the 79th most hazardous site in the state, according to the N.C. Division of Waste Management.
The total number of hazardous sites changes daily as the state receives new information and makes findings. As of June 27, North Carolina had 1,880 such sites, said Cathy Akroyd, a spokeswoman for the Division of Waste Management.
Parties can clean up lower-risk sites voluntarily under the supervision of a state-approved consultant. For higher-risk sites, the state can step in and use money earmarked for clean-up.
But North Carolina allocates just $400,000 a year for the clean-up of inactive hazardous-waste sites. That limits the amount of non-voluntary remediation work that can be done each year, Akroyd said. The state gives priority to “the abatement of immediate hazards,” meaning it doesn’t want people drinking contaminated water or living on contaminated soil, among other perils, she said.
While 18 sites in North Carolina were cleaned up or given a “no further action” designation last year, the state added 35 more sites to its list.
Often, the threat of enforcement isn’t an option to get parties to clean up hazardous sites, Akroyd said. “Proving the cause of the contamination can be extremely difficult, because parties don’t want to be forthcoming with data that proves them to be responsible,” she said in an email. “Also, there are rarely any records that show when and how the contamination occurred.”
The Town of Clayton is finalizing agreements with the state and DuPont to clean up and transform the hazardous site on Covered Bridge Road into a park with a nature-study area, dog park, hiking trails and an amphitheater.
Clayton hopes to develop the park through a Brownfields Agreement, in which the state would absolve the town of future liability so long as Clayton cleaned up the land for park use. Through a separate agreement, DuPont has said it will remove tainted soil for the town, which will pay the company $600,000 for the land.
Last week, Town Manager Steve Biggs said Clayton has commented on a first draft of the Brownfields Agreement and expects to finalize the pact soon. Once the agreement is in place, the town will move to purchase the 39 DuPont acres, which adjoin 80 acres the town already owns.
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which administers the Brownfields program, will require the town – through DuPont – to remove contaminants from a trench the company used for then-legal dumping of chemicals. But the Brownfields Agreement will require that the town clean up the site for park use only, not a more-sensitive use like growing crops for food. That means DuPont might retain some environmental responsibility going forward, Akroyd said.
“It doesn’t close out the site, but it very significantly reduces hazards at the site,” Biggs said.
The Covered Bridge Road site is the most hazardous in Johnston County, according to the state, which ranks sites in decreasing order of danger to public health and the environment.
In 2011, according to the state, the Covered Bridge Road site was the 31st most hazardous in North Carolina. After the state notified DuPont about the ranking, the company responded on Jan. 16, 2012, with a letter questioning the score.
In the letter, DuPont pointed to low levels of contamination on the site and noted that no one was using the land. The company also stated it was working with Clayton to finalize a Brownfields Agreement.
“DuPont has already agreed to clean up the known soil-contamination area,” according to the letter, signed by Kevin Garon of the DuPont Corporate Remediation Group. The letter went on to say, “In order to move forward with the (Town) of Clayton and the Brownfield program, we need to have a clearer understanding as to why the site is ranked so high on the list and how remediation of the soils would impact this ranking.”
On Jan. 25, 2012, the state wrote back to the company saying it had reviewed the site’s score, found an error and revised the ranking to the 82nd most hazardous. That revised ranking is similar to the most current ranking of No. 79.
In May, DuPont spokesman Terry Gooding said that while the company has not yet signed a formal agreement with the town, it does support turning the land into a park.
Nine other Johnston County sites are on the state’s priority list – four in Clayton, three in Smithfield, one in Princeton and one in Kenly.
Another site in Clayton is a 75-acre tract on N.C. 42 East where W.R. Peele Co. occasionally disposed of chemicals from 1951 to 1971. State records show the company manufactured, formulated and distributed chemicals, such as pesticides and herbicides, at a building near the disposal site.
In 1997, a judge ordered the W.R. Peele Sr. Trust and other entities to clean up a small portion of the property after the state sued the parties over the contamination. The N.C. Railroad Co., which now owns the 75 acres, donated the three-acre disposal site to the Town of Clayton for a fire station.
Johnston’s 24 total sites tie for the 17th most among North Carolina counties. As for other counties in the region, data from April 3 show 85 hazardous sites in Wake, 48 in Durham, 26 in Wilson and 12 in Orange County. Mecklenburg County has the most hazardous sites in the state with 283.
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104