Old and in the way: Hurricane Florence could barrel over landfills, waste lagoons, hazardous waste sites and more toxics

Old and in the way: Hurricane Florence could barrel over landfills, waste lagoons, hazardous waste sites and more toxics

- in Environment, Top Story


Most current forecast path, as of Tuesday afternoon. (Map; National Hurricane Center)

Thousands of animal waste lagoons, hazardous waste sites and other repositories of toxic material lie in and near the projected path of Hurricane Florence, increasing the risk of breaches or leaks of dangerous chemicals into the environment. (This is one important reason you should avoid wading through or touching flood waters.)

The NC Department of Environmental Quality has a new mapping and data feature, which shows the locations of these sites, both in map form and spreadsheet. All of the maps below are from the DEQ site and can be clicked on to enlarge them. We’ve linked to each map; once you get to that DEQ page, click on the “data” tab to view the addresses and facility names in spreadsheet form.

The first map shows all of the animal feeding operations for permitted swine, cattle and poultry farms that use wet litter. (Dry litter poultry farms are “deemed permitted” and are largely unregulated.) With more than a foot of rain forecast, there is a higher risk of lagoon breaches, which can send millions of gallons of animal waste to rivers, wetlands and nearby property.

Permitted animal feeding operations, including swine (in orange),
cattle (blue) and poultry that use wet litter waste management (yellow).

This map shows the locations of known inactive hazardous waste sites. “Inactive” doesn’t mean innocuous; it merely means that the cleanups have been halted. There can be various reasons for the hiatus: financial, logistical, political. But the important takeaway is that these sites contain hazardous material.

Inactive hazardous waste sites

Areas where hazardous waste is stored or transported are indicated below by the amount of waste generated. Green is small; red is large.

Hazardous waste sites
These landfills, built in the last 35 years, legally are supposed to be lined, which can help keep contaminants from entering the groundwater. However, water can still enter these open pits, and closed landfills can still be problematic if the cap leaks.
Active and closed landfills, built after 1983

A more significant concern is the pre-regulatory landfills. These sites were constructed before 1983, when liners weren’t required and disposal regulations were weaker. For example, back in the day, a sundry of trash containing toxic chemicals could be tossed in these open pits: TVs, which contain lead and mercury; paint, pesticides, oil, antifreeze. There are roughly 670 of these dumps in North Carolina View larger map

Pre-regulatory landfills, built before 1983

In addition to Duke Energy’s coal ash landfills, there are several dozen other private coal ash facilities that store and/or have used the material for “structural fill” in roads, parking lots, berms, runways and the like. View larger map
Structural fill, coal ash landfills

When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, a major hazard was the dozens of Superfund sites throughout the city. Depending on how far the cleanup has progressed, these sites can be particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. There are 39 active Superfund sites in North Carolina.  View larger map

Superfund sites