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Yadkin Riverkeeper Files Intent to Sue Alcoa

Yadkin Riverkeeper Files Intent to Sue Alcoa

Yadkin Riverkeeper

Yadkin Riverkeeper announced Nov. 8 that the group has issued a letter of intent to bring a lawsuit under the Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) to sue the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) for the company’s unlawful discharge of lethal contaminants at the Badin Works facility in Badin, N.C.
A new study conducted by Pace Analytical Services, Inc. on mussels in Badin Lake, N.C. and fish tested downstream in Falls Reservoir indicates the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) specifically discharged by Alcoa Badin Works, an aluminum smelter adjacent to the lake which Alcoa operated for 90 years.

Mussels were collected in September 2011. In Pace’s report, dated Oct. 7, 2011, PCB readings were documented in multiple samples taken from mussels directly below Alcoa’s discharge pipes entering Badin Lake, and fish sampled further downstream in Falls Reservoir.

“We sampled mussels where we know Alcoa discharged PCBs into Badin Lake. The mussels not only tested positive for PCBs, but also proved to be an exact match to same types of PCBs Alcoa produced,” said Dean Naujoks, the Yadkin Riverkeeper. “Alcoa has been claiming that their PCBs have been cleaned up and that their PCBs are not migrating downstream. The fish we tested downstream in Falls Reservoir prove PCBs are in fact migrating downstream. This data scientifically refutes their claims and proves that PCBs are still contaminating the fish, and ultimately people who are eating the fish, which is putting lives in danger. Our lawsuit specifically targets this serious human health risk Alcoa created but has ignored for decades.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of Waterkeeper Alliance, toured Badin Lake Nov. 3. “Alcoa is a criminal enterprise,” Kennedy said while touring Badin Lake. “These people are breaking the law every day and getting away with it.”

PCB Congeners/Aroclors in Badin Lake Are Specific to Alcoa

PCBs contain data that, like genetic data in humans, is a single, unique, well-defined chemical compound specific to each PCB. PCBs were typically synthesized by chlorinating biphenyl with chlorine gas, substituting chlorine atoms for hydrogen atoms on the biphenyl molecule.

Individual chlorinated biphenyl molecules are called congeners. Individual congeners are identified by the number and position of the chlorine atoms around the biphenyl rings. There are 209 possible PCB congeners. Varying the conditions of this chlorination process produces different mixtures of congeners with different physical properties. These mixtures were sold as products called Aroclors, and each Aroclor can be specifically identified by the manufacturer who produces it.

Interestingly, the most recent samples from Badin Lake have produced congeners/Aroclors that match the PCBs documented to have been used by the Alcoa plant. The samples were analyzed for the presence or absence of PCB congeners using the accepted U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Method 1668A.

According to a Feb. 24, 2010 EPA report—EPA Comments for Badin Lake Documents—“Alcoa released PCBs into the southwest Arm of Badin Lake at concentrations greater than Industrial Standards (0.057 mg/kg)…Therefore, any additional investigations determining the extent of Alcoa's contamination should, at a minimum, include Aroclors—1260, 1254, 1248, 1242, 1232, 1221 and 1016.”

PCB test results positively linked PCB contaminated mussels and fish to the same type of PCBs the EPA says Alcoa produced—PCB Aroclors 1260, 1254, 1248, 1242, 1232, 1221 and 1016. Out of the 209 PCB congeners known to exist, the seven types of PCB’s Alcoa produced positively matched the PCB congeners and PCB Aroclors found in contaminated mussels below Alcoa’s outfall pipes entering Badin Lake and fish in Falls Reservoir.

“For three years, we have been vigilant in our demands to have Alcoa clean up the contamination in the lake to secure their water quality certification and retain the license to operate the dams,” added Naujoks. “After denying responsibility for years, Alcoa’s new response to construct a three-acre armored cap to mitigate PCBs is too little, too late. Their plan does not satisfactorily address the public health issues linked to Alcoa’s PCBs nor address the migration of Alcoa’s PCBs downstream through the Yadkin River dams. It also fails to address the ecological risks we are seeing in terms of bioaccumulation. We see no other alternative than to file a lawsuit to address this serious ecological and public health risk. We also do not see any basis that the State of North Carolina can lawfully reissue a water quality certificate to Alcoa. The people of North Carolina have a legal right to clean water and Alcoa has stolen that right.”

For more information, click here.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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