The state Division of Public Health recommends that people stay out of a stream near the Ward Transformer Superfund site because of elevated doses of cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in the water and sediment.
But agency officials say the levels of PCBs in the sediment and floodplain soils farther downstream, including in Little Brier Creek and Lower Brier Creek, are not expected to cause health effects or increase a person’s risk of getting cancer.
The conclusions are based on a study of soils and sediments downstream of Ward Transformer Co.’s former facility off Lumley Road, site of the Triangle’s worst case of industrial pollution. Representatives from the Division of Public Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will present the results of the study on the possible long-term health impacts from the site at a community meeting Tuesday night.
From 1964 until 2006, Ward used the site near Raleigh-Durham International Airport to recycle transformers. Fluids containing PCBs were frequently spilled, contaminating land, creeks and lakes as far as six miles downstream.
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The soil on-site was cleaned up in 2014, the same year the EPA announced that a settlement of $5.5 million had been reached among 173 parties, including Ward and companies that did business with it. The settlement, which will be used to rid PCBs from areas downstream of the site, brought the total cost of cleaning the pollution to $87.5 million.
PCBs – part of a group of synthetic chlorinated compounds that were once widely used in electrical equipment – have no known smell or taste. They can remain in the environment for long periods of time, and exposure to high levels of PCBs can cause acne and rashes, liver damage or liver and other cancers. PCBs were manufactured in the U.S. from 1929 until 1979, when they were banned by the federal government because of their potential health effects.
The Division of Public Health says PCB levels in the unnamed stream within .3-miles of the Ward Transformer site are high enough to pose a continuing health risk, particularly for young children. The stream flows under Interstate 540 and through a small office park behind the Brier Creek Commons shopping center to Lumley Road.
The division suggests that the Wake County health department post advisory signs in the area surrounding the stream and that people who come in contact with the water or sediment thoroughly wash their skin and clothing. It also recommends that the EPA focus its initial clean-up effort on this portion of the stream.
The division found no health risks from PCBs farther downstream, in a .4-mile portion of the unnamed stream that flows from Lumley Road into Little Brier Creek or in the .8-mile portion of Little Brier Creek that goes under I-540 through Raleigh-Durham International Airport property into Brier Creek Reservoir. Below the reservoir, the division also concluded there were no PCB health risks in the 1.8-mile stretch of Brier Creek that flows under Airport Boulevard and 1-40 into Lake Crabtree.
Rachel Chason: 919-829-4629
Learn about the study
The Division of Public Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will present the findings of a study of the possible health effects of the Ward Transformer Superfund site on Tuesday, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the Triangle Christian Center, 11100 Fellowship Drive, off T.W. Alexander Drive, in Raleigh. The results of the study can be found at North Regional Library, 7009 Harps Mill Road in Raleigh, or on the Division of Public Health’s website, nando.com/wardstudy.