PCBs may be on the move

Greater pollution of Crabtree feared

Staff WriterJuly 27, 2005 

Industrial waste from the Ward Transformer site may have spread farther down Crabtree Creek, and the state will continue to test fish into and beyond William B. Umstead Park.

Members of a task force set up to investigate longstanding contamination from the site said they worry that polychlorinated biphenyls will continue to travel downstream, threatening people who live and fish in the area.

"We still don't know how far this stuff goes," said Jim Sherman, a task force member who lives nearby in Cary. "As far as they've looked, it's there."

Members also promised to grill the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has overseen waste at the site near Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

In the discussion Tuesday night, the task force and its guests spoke of distant EPA officials making decisions about the area using only outdated aerial maps, never having studied it in person.

"They're as far removed from our interests as they can possibly be," Sherman said.

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker and Joe Bryan, chairman of the Wake County Commissioners, called for the task force this month after learning of the extent of PCB contamination from the Ward site.

PCBs were used as a coolant in high-voltage electric transformers before being banned in 1979. They have caused cancer and reproductive problems in laboratory animals.

The state has already warned against eating:

* any fish from Brier Creek and its reservoir;

* any carp or catfish from Lake Crabtree, or more than one meal a month of any other fish;

* more than one meal a month of carp or catfish from Crabtree Creek.

Luanne Williams, toxicologist with the state Department of Health and Human Services, said testing of fish will continue in the creek through Umstead Park to Duraleigh Road.

During the task force meeting -- its first -- speakers said the EPA had been resistant to holding community meetings about the problem.

David Carter, director of Wake County Parks, said he asked for a public meeting in May of last year but was told there wasn't time. When a public hearing was held, he said, it was poorly advertised and only bureaucrats attended.

"This is the first time we've had real public participation," he said.

City Attorney Thomas McCormick, a task force member, told others to be ready for the EPA at its next meeting. The task force will issue a report no later than the first week in September.

Staff Writer Josh Shaffer can be reached at 829-4818 or jshaffer@newsobserver.com.

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