The Holtrachem Superfund site: A long, dirty legacy in Riegelwood

The Holtrachem Superfund site: A long, dirty legacy in Riegelwood

- in Environment, Featured Articles

Historical aerial of polluted Holtrachem site

1963: Riegel Paper Corporation, now International Paper, operates on 26 acres in Riegelwood in Columbus County. The corporation transfers the land to Allied Chemical Corporation, which manufactures liquid bleach and other chemicals.

1979: Allied sells the facility to LCP Chemicals.

1994: LCP files for bankruptcy. Holtrachem acquires the site and begins operations.

1996: OSHA inspects Holtrachem and fines the company $31,000 for violations after finding workers are being exposed to high levels of mercury.

1998: OSHA reinspects the facility and discovers the company has not fixed its exposure problem, allowing workers to come into contact with mercury.

1999: Hurricane Floyd hits the coast, dumping 24 inches of rain on the area. More than 2 million gallons of stormwater enters the Cape River River.

36 Holtrachem workers’ urine tests high for mercury. That number later increased to 71. The workers lost the lawsuit on the local level;  the N.C. Supreme Court then rejected their appeal. OSHA levies an $873,000 fine on the company, then the largest in state history, for the 1996 violations. The amount is later reduced to $100,000after Holtrachem officials said it had fixed the issues.

2000: Holtrachem dissolves. Honeywell becomes the owner of the site. The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (now DEQ) samples soil on the site and fish in the Cape Fear River and finds high levels of mercury.

2002: State and federal regulators determine the site “poses a threat to human health, the food chain and the environment” because of PCB, mercury and dioxin contamination. The site enters the Superfund program.

2003-2004: Honeywell removes 34,000 pounds of mercury waste.

2008: Contractors discover PCB-contaminated sediment in a former wastewater lagoon. They stockpile 23,700 cubic yards of contaminated material, which is covered with a waterproof polyethylene cap.

2009-2016: EPA and DEQ conduct site investigations to determine a list of possible clean-up plans.