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For immediate use

 Nov. 18, 2003 – No. 613

UNC signs voluntary agreement for state clean-up program at chemical waste site

CHAPEL HILL – The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and its consultant have signed an administrative agreement as part of a voluntary program with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to clean up a chemical waste disposal site on UNC property near the Horace Williams Airport.

The agreement is the next step in the university’s ongoing efforts to clean up the 0.2-acre site tract.

"The university is making good on the commitment we made to the community to formalize and fund a remediation plan with DENR," said Nancy Suttenfield, vice chancellor for finance and administration. "We are very pleased to report this milestone and look forward to completing the work as quickly as possible. Our goal is to accelerate the timetable outlined in this mutual agreement if we can."

UNC used the site between 1973 and 1979 to bury laboratory chemical waste generated by the campus and what then was N.C. Memorial Hospital using accepted legal practices of that era. Because the site does not currently pose a risk to human health or the environment, DENR ranked it 217th among the state’s 443 inactive waste sites as of last October. The site does not appear on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund national priority list.

UNC’s Department of Environment, Health and Safety has been closely monitoring the site for years and has worked with an environmental consulting firm to install wells to monitor groundwater. Reviews of disposal records have yielded a detailed record of the buried chemicals.

The university’s consultants, Arcadis Inc., will plan and manage the soil clean-up efforts – expected to take up to eight years and cost an estimated $10.4 million – as part of the Registered Environmental Consultant (REC) Program managed by DENR’s Inactive Hazardous Site Branch. Under the program, the university and DENR enter into a three-part administrative agreement with Arcadis, which supervises the clean-up according to state standards.

DENR provides a 30-day public notice before granting final approval of the agreement. Then Arcadis would start developing a clean-up investigation plan that must be completed within three years. Within the following two years, Arcadis would oversee installation of a groundwater remediation system. The agreement requires clean-up of the source of the contamination to be completed no later than eight years after signing the agreement. University officials hope to have that work done sooner. Groundwater remediation will continue until it is completed.

Under the agreement, the public will be notified about the proposed remediation plan; citizens will have opportunities to share their comments about the clean-up efforts.

The university’s previous studies and years of groundwater monitoring already have provided a significant head start for the remedial investigation, said Pete Reinhardt, director of UNC’s Department of Environment, Health and Safety.

"Remediation is a complex process," he said. "We will proceed as quickly as possible, but it will take several years to do the job right. We are committed to safe and environmentally sound site remediation practices that comply fully with all local, state and federal standards and requirements."

UNC’s ongoing investigations at the site have shown waste in nearby groundwater that is spreading very slowly from the burial site, Reinhardt said. He emphasized that this groundwater posed no threat to human health. Most of the monitoring wells on the site have shown a decrease in waste levels; a few have shown an increase. All of the detected groundwater remains within the boundaries of the university’s property, he said.

UNC’s other clean-up plans still include a second nearby inactive waste site known as the old sanitary landfill, which contains university garbage, construction debris and municipal waste from the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Chapel Hill operated the 35-acre site from about 1967 to 1973. DENR ranked the landfill 223rd on its list of 443 inactive waste sites as of last October because it currently poses no risk to human health or the environment.

Future clean-up plans for the landfill will be shaped by Carolina North -- now the focus of a 50-year draft conceptual plan for a living-learning community – as well as ongoing discussions about an appropriate funding plan for remediation, Suttenfield said.

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Contact: Mike McFarland (919) 962-8593