Demolished Winston Weaver Fertilizer Plant still poses environmental concerns
Two years following a devastating fire at the Winston Weaver Fertilizer Plant in Winston Salem, environmental concerns persist, particularly regarding groundwater contamination. The fire, which prompted evacuations within a one-mile radius due to fears of a potential explosion, left the community questioning the long-term environmental impacts.
Lisa Sorg, an environmental journalist with NC Newsline, has been closely monitoring the remediation efforts at the site of the now-demolished plant. In a discussion with April Laissle of WFDD, Sorg shared insights into the ongoing environmental challenges and the efforts to address them.
Reflecting on the incident, Sorg emphasized the broader implications for building codes and safety regulations in North Carolina. “This was a huge not just an environmental and social crisis in Winston Salem, but I felt like at the time it was a bellwether for every city and town in North Carolina to look at their building codes and to look at what is where and our homes near these highly contaminated and volatile areas. If that had been an explosion, we would be having a much different conversation today.”
The primary concern now lies beneath the ground, where groundwater has been contaminated with solvents, gasoline, and other hazardous substances, partly due to improper storage practices. “So the plant has been demolished, it’s razed, looks nothing like it used to. But what’s under the ground is what’s concerning now. And that’s the groundwater — it’s contaminated with various solvents, with gasoline, there used to be underground storage tanks at the site. And then, of course, they had that second site that was not totally legit and was just a lean-to shack. And a lot of things leaked there as well, which also contaminated the groundwater. So this is still a major environmental situation,” Sorg explained.
A dedicated environmental contractor has been tasked by Weaver Fertilizer to investigate the contamination’s nature and extent. The process involves identifying the contaminants present and determining the most effective treatment technologies. According to Sorg, such cleanups can span decades, underscoring the complexity and persistence of environmental damage following industrial accidents.
As the community and environmental experts continue to assess and mitigate the site’s contamination, the Winston Weaver Fertilizer Plant fire serves as a stark reminder of the need for stringent safety and environmental protections in industrial operations.