WRAL Investigates

Meeker: Raleigh will warn people about PCBs in streams

Posted May 14, 2008 3:54 p.m. EDT
Updated May 15, 2008 6:44 a.m. EDT

— Mayor Charles Meeker said Wednesday that the city would find a way to warn people about the presence of cancer-causing chemicals in Walnut Creek and Rocky Branch Creek.

The state Division of Public Health tested sediment samples from the two streams that flow through south Raleigh two years ago and found polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. Their findings weren't publicly disclosed until last month, when regulators issued a news release to warn people about eating fish caught in the streams.

"Anytime you've got PCBs in a stream bed, it's a public health hazard," Meeker said Wednesday, one day after a WRAL investigative report on the contamination.

PCBs were used as coolants and lubricants in electrical equipment until the late 1970s, when the U.S. banned their production. Federal regulators cited evidence that PCBs build up in the environment and can cause health problems from rashes to liver ailments.

Officials also have designated the chemicals as likely carcinogens.

Although Walnut Creek and Rocky Branch Creek empty into the Neuse River, the relatively low levels of PCBs that have been found and the limited public use of the two streams mean that a cleanup is unlikely, said Doug Campbell, director of the Division of Public Health's Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch.

The state doesn't even have money to post fish advisory signs along the banks of the two streams, Campbell said.

"We'd like to put up more signs. We're limited in our budget. We have no money for signs," he said.

The lack of public warning about the PCBs frustrates Meeker, and he vowed to take up the issue with the City Council.

"The state really ought to take care of it, but if the state's not going to, then the city needs to look at it," he said. "We need to see where the fishing spots are. There ought to be appropriate signage."

Fish advisory signs are posted at Lake Crabtree because of PCB contamination traced to the former Ward Transformer Co. plant near Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has slated the plant site for a cleanup, but federal officials decided last year to let the lake clean itself naturally.

Meeker and environmental groups said they don't like that plan, maintaining the industrial waste doesn't just wash away.

"It's been there for 30 years now, and it hasn't cleaned itself up," said Dean Naujoks, of the Neuse River Foundation. "Why all of a sudden are we expected to believe in nine years everything is going to be fine?"