Two years ago, the Winston Weaver Fertilizer Plant caught fire, prompting evacuations in a one-mile radius of the facility as officials feared a massive explosion. The explosion didn’t happen, but once the smoke cleared, residents were left wondering what potential long-term effects could result from the crisis.
Lisa Sorg covers environmental issues for NC Newsline and has been following remediation efforts at the former plant. She discussed her reporting with WFDD’s April Laissle.
On the lasting impact of the crisis:
"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."
On the most pressing environmental concern at the site:
"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."
On groundwater contamination remediation efforts:
"There is an environmental contractor who's been hired by Weaver Fertilizer. And they continue to do studies on the nature and extent of the contamination, meaning, what are all the things that are in the groundwater. There are treatment technologies. It just depends on how much of it there is and how long that will take. Cleanups of this nature can take decades."