8.8 million pounds of toxic chemicals dumped into N.C. rivers

Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center

Raleigh, NC—Chemical manufacturers, meat-processing plants, coal plants and other industrial facilities dumped more than 8.8 million pounds of toxic chemicals into North Carolina’s rivers and streams in 2012, the ninth most in the country, according to a new report by Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center.

The “Wasting Our Waterways” report comes as state lawmakers debate the clean up of toxic coal ash pits, and as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers a new rule to restore protections to thousands of rivers and streams in North Carolina and across the nation.

“With the threat of coal-ash pollution and the millions of pounds of toxic chemicals documented in this report, North Carolina’s rivers need all they help they can get,” said Elizabeth Ouzts, Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center Director.

The analysis compiled discharges of dioxin, lead, mercury, and broad range of other toxic and cancer-causing chemicals reported by industrial facilities to the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory for 2012. Major findings of the report include:

  • Nitrate compounds made up the majority of toxic chemical pollution released into the state’s waters, with Smithfield Packing in Tar Heel leading the way with over 2 million pounds.  Large quantities of nitrates can lead to algae blooms and fish kills, and can be particularly harmful to infants.
  • The Lower Cape Fear River received the sixth highest amount of chemical discharges of any river in the country, with chemical manufacturers and other polluters releasing 550,000 pounds of nitrates, lead, ammonia, and other toxins into the river.
  • Just across the border of northwestern North Carolina in Virginia, the Upper New River received the second highest amount of chemical discharges in the country, largely due to a U.S. Army ammunition plant in Radford, VA.

Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center used the report to highlight a proposal from the U.S. EPA to restore protections for thousands of miles of rivers and streams across the state.

Following a pair of Supreme Court decisions in the last decade, more than 135,000 miles of streams in North Carolina lost guaranteed protections under the federal Clean Water Act. This spring, EPA proposed a rule to restore these basic protections.

The EPA action is opposed by a wide range of polluting industries, and earlier this week, Gov. Pat McCrory joined eight other governors on a letter objecting to it.

“Restoring the basic protections of the Clean Water Act to all of our headwaters, rivers, and streams is just common sense,” said Ouzts. “We urge Gov. McCrory to change course, and side with our rivers, not the polluters.”



Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center is a statewide, public education and organizing group, working to protect the places we love and the values we share.