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The EPA will consider whether to add a Chapel Hill coal ash site to its Superfund list

Coal ash on the surface of the ground at 828 Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard on May 13, 2022, after Chapel Hill removed coal ash from the site. Courtesy of Adam Searing and Center for Biological Diversity.
Courtesy of Adam Searing
Center for Biological Diversity
Coal ash on the surface of the ground at 828 Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard on May 13, 2022.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will consider adding a site in Chapel Hill to its national Superfund program.

The site at 828 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard contains coal ash from a coal plant run by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Coal ash is the toxic byproduct of burning coal.

“We welcome this EPA assessment, as it will help us make well-informed decisions," said Chapel Hill Town Manager Chris Blue. "We're committed to whatever the best remedy is for that property to maximize safety for folks in our community and our employees who are on that site."

Currently, the site is the headquarters of Chapel Hill's police department.

The Superfund program run by the EPA is responsible for cleaning up dozens of contaminated sites across the country.

The EPA will conduct its preliminary assessment of the site within the next year. According to a press release from the Town of Chapel Hill, a preliminary assessment will “determine whether a site poses a threat to human health or the environment and whether the threat requires further investigation.”

The EPA agreed to this investigation because of a petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group. In a press release, staff attorney Perrin de Jong urged the EPA to use the most up-to-date science in its investigation to protect public health and the environment from toxic coal ash.

The Town of Chapel Hill is also working with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on an agreement that will determine what uses will be allowed on the property in the future.

Chapel Hill town officials previously considered building affordable housing on the property. That proposal caused community backlash, and Blue said the idea is no longer an option.

"We're looking forward to hearing [back from DEQ] soon," Blue said. "The only thing that is clear at this moment is a commitment to not put any housing there."

The town expects to have its draft agreement with DEQ this spring. Once the draft agreement is final, there will be a 30-day public comment period and public information meetings.

Celeste Gracia covers the environment for WUNC. She has been at the station since September 2019 and started off as morning producer.
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