North Carolina signs off on testing at plant fire site

July 23, 2022 GMT

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina environmental agency has approved a plan to test the soil and groundwater for contamination at the site of a massive fertilizer-plant fire in January.

Montrose Engineering and Geology laid out its plans in a 71-page document approved this week by the N.C. Department of Environmental Control’s Inactive Hazardous Sites Branch, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.

The company will spend up to four months collecting and analyzing hundreds of samples for potentially hazardous materials left behind from the Jan. 31 fire that burned for days at the Winston Weaver fertilizer plant.

Montrose plans to install five wells at the site to test groundwater 20 feet to 30 feet (about six to nine meters) underground, and will collect and analyze more than 500 soil samples.

The firm carried out a preliminary environmental assessment in May.

During and shortly after the fire, high levels of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury were detected, according to the contractor. And based on its initial assessment, Montrose says it will look specifically for concentrations of volatile organic compounds, ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, phosphates and metals.

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Montrose said it identified contaminants including “waste fluids from the demolition of the former fertilizer production building” and was informed by Winston Weaver that “paints and flammable liquids are among the hazardous waste fluids onsite.”

At the time of the fire, 500 tons of stored ammonium nitrate at the plant threatened to trigger, in the words of Winston-Salem Fire Chief Trey Mayo, “one of the worst explosions in U.S. history.”

Thousands of residents were forced from their homes because of the fire and the threat of explosion.