Officials perform a site visit at the Horton Iron & Metal Co.

Officials perform a site visit at the Horton Iron & Metal Co.

The Superfund Research Program helps solve complex health and environmental issues associated with Superfund sites and also improves our ability to understand and response to the needs of communities living near hazardous waste sites.

In 2012, the UNC Research Translation Core (RTC) partnered with the North Carolina Division of Public Health (NCDPH) to learn more about community concerns and needs for information in communities near two Superfund sites in eastern North Carolina.

The two sites selected for this study–Horton Iron & Metal Co. in Wilmington, NC and Wright Chemical Corp. in Riegelwood, NC–were added to the National Priorities List (NPL) in 2011. The sites are both former phosphate fertilizer manufacturing facilities that were added to the NPL because of on-site lead and arsenic contamination of soil and sediments.

The project, conducted by SRP RTC graduate student, Tracey Slaughter and RTC leader Kathleen Gray with support from NCDPH staff, consisted of 36 in-depth interviews with a range of community participants, including residents, leaders of local organizations, local government officials, healthcare professionals, and industry representatives.

“Those who were least likely to know about the sites were the residents, local government officials, and healthcare professionals–the very people who are most likely to be affected by the sites or those who will need to be prepared to recognize and respond to potential impacts” noted Slaughter, now a research associate with the RTC. These interviews helped investigators identify concerns about negative impacts to the local economy and environmental health as a result of the sites and also identified potential routes of exposure not previously known, including access to one site by an employee hunting club and fish and wildlife consumption near the sites.

RTC investigators aim to use this information to improve communication and outreach about potential hazards near the sites, inform future plans for community engagement, and strengthen overall efforts to protect public health. “By engaging residents and other members of the community early in the process,” says Slaughter, “we hope that they can have a meaningful impact on the way the sites are addressed and cleaned up.”




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