Local News

Labor Department Finds 18 Violations At Raleigh Wastewater Plant

Posted July 3, 2002

— A Department of Labor investigation has found 18 violations of employee safety at Raleigh's wastewater plant. Sixteen of them are considered "serious" and involve exposure to chemicals. The city faces a fine of $14,700 and several government agencies are looking into whether the city endangered its workers and people living near the sewage plant.

Ruth Pearce has lived near Raleigh's sewage plant for nearly 20 years, but she has never worried about it contaminating her well water until now.

"None of us like to be sick for any reason, especially through somebody else's carelessness," she said.

Pearce just learned that groundwater near the plant may have been contaminated when workers sprayed too much sludge on nearby fields. City officials said they are concerned about the quality of the groundwater.

"There are so many things that could come from water contamination and some of it could be deadly. Some of it is just enough to cause you uncomfort," Pearce said.

City Manager Russell Allen said the plant is now cleaning up its act. Workers are digging for rat poison believed to buried on the grounds. They are also removing soil that may be contaminated with herbicides and other toxins.

"We've already indicated proactively that we'll be glad to test anyone's well and will do that with any well in the area," Allen said.

The city is also offering medical exams to workers worried about ash and methane gas stored on the site. Problems at the plant got the attention of state inspectors, who handed the city a $74,000 fine.

"Although I think the end level is a little bit high, I understand the rationale and I don't think it would be productive to challenge the fine. We'll go ahead and pay it," Allen said.

The city may have to answer to more than the state Division of Water Quality. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the State Bureau of Investigation and the state Departments of Labor and Agriculture are also investigating the sewage plant.

Employees of the sewage plant are taking the city up on its offer of free medical exams at Duke. The SBI has interviewed employees to see if there are grounds for a criminal investigation.

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