Mayor on illegal dumping: 'Anything coming out of your faucet is safe'

by: Mark Becker Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The city of Charlotte is asking for the public's help in trying to find the person who illegally dumped chemicals into Mallard Creek.

Charlotte officials held a second media briefing at the government center Friday evening to update the public on the situation.

Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon said “a lot of hard work has gone into rectifying the situation.”

“Anything coming out of your faucet is safe,” Cannon said.

City officials are putting together a task force to find whoever is responsible for illegally dumping into sewer system.

The task force includes Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities Department, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, Charlotte Fire Department, Environmental Protection Agency officials and North Carolina Highway Patrol.

“We’re talking about a time of the morning within the city at a time when the type of tanker truck that may be involved in something like this would be readily, hopefully identifiable by someone that may have seen it,” said CMPD Chief Rodney Monroe.

Officials held their first media briefing Friday morning to share details on the investigation.

City Manager Ron Carlee, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Director Barry Gullet, CFD Hazmat Deputy Jeff Dulin and CMPD Detective Rob Klass were in attendance.

Officials said that on Thursday, CFD hazmat crews responded to reports of an unusual substance flowing into the Mallard Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant on U.S. 29 North. An oily sheen could be seen on the surface of the water. The flow was contained in a holding tank until it was determined that it was safe to return the plant for service. The plant was back online Friday morning.

“We worked through the night to make adjustments in the plant to be sure that we could handle the product and that we could produce safe and clean wastewater from the plant. So the plant, like Mr. Carlee said, is back online, and is functioning this morning,” Gullett said.

The chemical has been identified as polychlorinated biphenyls -- or PCBs -- and trichlorobenzene. Officials said the city's water supply has not been affected by the illegal dumping and that this was an isolated incident in Mallard Creek.

Police think this is a case of illegal and deliberate dumping. They are asking anyone who may have seen anything suspicious late Wednesday evening or early Thursday morning near the Food Lion grocery store along Sugar Creek Road and W.T. Harris Boulevard to call police.

A Food Lion representative said the company "is working closely with the City, EPA and other agencies to investigate the possibility of a third-party illegally dumping chemicals into a sewer drain near our Food Lion Store located at Sugar Creek Road and Harris Boulevard. Food Lion is working with authorities in the investigation to lead to the ultimate arrest of any and all individuals responsible for this situation."

The drinking water is safe, including the well water that many people in this area use, officials said, however they want people living along Mallard Creek south of the plant to be careful and avoid animal and human contact with the water until more tests can be done.

Carlee said officials couldn't assure that no damage had been done to the creek water until those tests come back. Investigators think the chemical was probably dumped by a septic pump truck.

Carlee said that they did not know exactly how much of the chemical was dumped but that septic trucks the size that was likely hauling it can hold up to 5,000 gallons.

Police officials said they were looking to get federal assistance with the investigation.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources arrived in Charlotte around 1:30 a.m. to help investigate the dump.

“The chemicals that were present in this unauthorized flow would have been very damaging to both the Mallard Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and the environment had they been released,” said Tom Reeder, director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources. “I applaud the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Department in their efforts to properly contain these materials and to resolve this situation.”

Channel 9 spoke with an environmental expert to learn what PCB is, and how it could impact the water and soil.

Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins said PCB was a chemical banned in the 1970s.

Unlike other chemicals, PCB never breaks down. That means, even if contaminated wastewater is cleaned, PCB will still remain.

Farmers often use wastewater sludge to fertilize their land.

"Whenever it rains, it would make its way back into the water again or be eaten by a cow that is grazing in the area,” Perkins said.

PCB was used in electric transformers.