Alcoa plans upgrade to Badin Lake stormwater system

Environmental concerns on cyanide levels during process

BADIN — With operations in 10 different countries, Alcoa has become a $12 billion company and the world’s eighth largest aluminum producer. But while over a decade has passed since Alcoa shut down its aluminum smelting plant in Badin, the 132-year-old company is still dealing with the environmental ramifications of the existing property. 

Badin Business Park LLC, a subsidiary of Alcoa, is hoping to strike a deal with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) that will lift the pollution violations that have been handed down by the NC Environmental Management Commission (EMC). 

According to a recent Special Order By Consent proposal that has not yet been approved by the DEQ, Badin Park’s facility is “unable to consistently comply with the final effluent limits for total fluoride and total cyanide” in the stormwater, which is directed from the Outfall 005 discharge point into Little Mountain Creek and Badin Lake. 

Badin Lake, the source of Albemarle’s water supply, currently has fish consumption advisories posted at various spots around the lake due to the lake water’s contaminants.  

“We take our environmental responsibilities seriously, and we are working with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to ensure compliance with our water discharge permit,” an Alcoa spokesperson told SCJ in an email.  

In order to navigate the current permit violations, Alcoa is designing a system upgrade intended to divert and pump water from Outfall 005. 

“We are planning to modify an existing stormwater piping system that will enable Badin Business Park to better manage water at the site,” Alcoa’s statement continued. “The project, which should be complete in the summer of 2022, will use an existing diffuser, which has operated in Badin Lake for decades. It will help ensure that overall concentrations are below both the state and federal standards and are protective of human health and the environment.” 

The company’s plan for handling the permit violation has drawn the ire of the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), a non-profit environmental public interest law firm that represents the Concerned Citizens of West Badin. In 2019, SELC negotiated a settlement with Alcoa that forced the company to upgrade its stormwater system. 

One facet of Alcoa’s new proposal — if approved by the DEQ — is that the contaminated stormwater containing excessive cyanide and fluoride will be shifted to a new discharge point (Outfall 012) where the state’s permit limit is more lenient. However, Alcoa has documented that Outfall 012 will be a “mixing zone” where the polluted water will be diluted sufficiently before it enters Badin Lake.  

Yadkin Riverkeeper, a nonprofit, membership organization based out of Winston-Salem, has also taken issue with the contents of the Special Order By Consent, specifically pertaining to the short-term effects of the proposal.  

“The proposed SOC would allow BBP to discharge more than nine times the current effluent limitation for cyanide for up to two years, while the new piping system is being completed,” a Dec. 10 statement on Yadkin Riverkeeper’s website said.  

“The proposed new SOC would not only allow BBP to continue to exceed the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System effluent limitations, but also give them another two years to attain compliance, while allowing up to nine times more cyanide to be discharged into Little Mountain Creek during the interim,” the statement continued.