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Updated Sept. 22
Hurricane Florence: Hazardous Sites At Risk
Toxic coal ash sites, chemical facilities, and Superfund sites are of increased threats to communities in the aftermath of the hurricane.
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Coal ash is filled with toxic levels of pollutants. It is the toxic waste formed when coal is burned in power plants to make electricity. At least 100 coal ash waste sites are located throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and Maryland.

As of Sept. 21, coal ash sites at the Duke Energy H.F. Lee plant in Goldsboro, North Carolina, are spilling coal ash into the nearby Neuse River. Riverkeepers are also seeing coal ash in Cape Fear River, after a coal ash lagoon at nearby L.V. Sutton Power Station in Wilmington, North Carolina, was flooded. (Read analysis.)

A turtle in Cape Fear River, North Carolina, is smothered in coal ash. Riverkeepers cleaned and released the turtle.
Pete Harrison / Earthjustice
A turtle in the Cape Fear River smothered in coal ash. Riverkeepers cleaned and released the turtle. Learn more.
“What happened with Hurricane Matthew in 2016 was relatively minor in terms of what could happen this year with Florence,” explains Lisa Evans, attorney with Earthjustice's Coal Program and an expert on coal ash, on the impact of the wind and rain on the waste sites.

For decades, the toxic waste was dumped into unlined ponds and landfills, where the hazardous chemicals seep into water and soil and blow into the air. Earthjustice has worked for more than a decade at state and federal levels to bring accountability to coal ash disposal and groundwater contamination. (More on coal ash.)
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North Carolina is one of the centers of industrial hog farming. Enormous amounts of untreated fecal waste are stored in open-air lagoons. Elevated rainfall and flooding from Hurricane Florence has sent the waste — which carries E. coli, Salmonella, cryptosporidium and other harmful bacteria — into waterways.

As of Sept. 21, at least 31 hog waste lagoons have overflowed, at least 23 more have been inundated by floodwaters, and at least six have been damaged or completely breached. (Read analysis.)

An industrial hog operation flooded by Hurricane Florence.
Rick Dove / Waterkeeper Alliance
A flooded industrial hog operation in Duplin County, North Carolina. Learn more.
“No one thinks it’s a good idea to spray waste on the fields right before a storm,” explains Alexis Andiman, attorney with Earthjustice's Sustainable Food and Farming Program. “Basically, they’re trying to reduce the chance of pollution by guaranteeing pollution.” Earthjustice lawsuits have sought to push agencies to improve oversight and accountability of industrial animal agriculture, including in North Carolina. (About pollution from industrial livestock facilities.)
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Chemical facilities often release huge amounts of hazardous substances during major storms. More than 800 chemical facilities — such as oil refineries, chemical manufacturers, pulp-paper mills — are located throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. Communities living near these facilities are at risk from chemical spills, fires, and explosions, particularly during extreme weather events such as the disaster at the Arkema plant following Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Earthjustice attorneys are in court to strengthen protections for communities and emergency responders near these facilities and to bring accountability to industry.

To report a chemical incident in your community, contact U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hotlines:
  • National Response Center: 1-800-424-8802
  • Risk Management Plan: 1-800-424-9346
  • Environmental Justice: 1-800-962-6215 or EJHotline@epa.gov
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Superfund's ‘National Priorities List’ are the most toxic waste sites in the nation. The U.S. EPA is monitoring dozens of NPL sites in the projected impact zone of Hurrican Florence. Superfund — the law that requires industries to handle their hazardous waste safely and clean up their toxic spills — has allowed the U.S. EPA and other federal agencies to identify and clean up thousands of polluted sites across the country. Earthjustice has brought lawsuits to enforce and strengthen the Superfund law.
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What you can do. To aid the efforts of volunteers and rescue personnel providing relief to communities affected by Hurricane Florence, please consider supporting the North Carolina Community Foundation and The North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund.

“Too many communities in the path of Florence are facing the risk of disasters,” said Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice’s Vice President of Litigation for Climate & Energy. “We must continue the fight for a safe and livable climate for everyone so that the devastation we’ve seen in Puerto Rico and Texas, and now the Carolinas, does not become the new normal.” (Read full statement.)
Media Inquiries

Keith Rushing, National Media Strategist, media@earthjustice.org