Friday, November 18, 2011

Former Textile Plant Reveals Deeper Little Secret

By: Duane Craig

Groundwater contamination at an old Texfi Industries plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina, is now deeper than anyone thought, according to this report at WTVD-TV in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. At 30 feet, it's in line to potentially contaminate city water supplies that come from the nearby Cape Fear River. The contaminants are chlorinated solvents such as tetrachlorothylene.

Groundwater contamination threatens treated city water

Besides the river, another route of contamination could follow a path into a 14-million gallon tank that stores treated water for the city. So the plan is to dig a trench that would corral the toxic chemicals before they reach the tank. The city was briefed on this solution in April, but so far (as of August 6) there hasn't been a decision to begin the work, no doubt because of money. There is little left in a fund designated to deal with the Texfi contamination problem.

Texfi made millions on the polyester craze of the late 60s and early 70s. From leisure suits to mini skirts, polyester was humanity's answer to wrinkles. Problem was it was made from oil and tended to hamper the skin's ability to breathe. By the mid 70s people had moved back to natural fibers, or were beginning to try hybrids that blended polyester or rayon with natural fibers. Texfi didn't get it and continued to churn out polyester, loosing millions from 1974 through 1984, according to this background report in Entrepreneur.

During the heady years of profits there were 200 people working at Texfi's headquarters in Greensboro and the company had a weekend retreat complete with a half million dollar Tudor mansion and golf course where textile-weary executives could unwind. Then too, there was the expansion that allowed Texfi to circumvent suppliers like Celanese. The company built polymer plants in Asheboro and New Bern and then went public. Over the years it had operations at 13 plants, but by 1982 only eight were left and the company was bleeding red ink. A new CEO took over, slashed costs and continued the company's transition to blended fibers. Then it got into underwear, socks and even medical bandages.

The plant at Fayetteville was on Hoffer Drive and the operations there included dyeing textiles and finishing them. The chemicals were released from the plant operations, from tanks and from drains taking them into soil and groundwater. In a Texfi fact sheet from the North Carolina Division of Waste Management, the facility is listed as closed in 1999. Nearby are residential properties and the Fayetteville Public Works Commission’s P.O. Hoffer Water Treatment plant, sometimes called clear well. That facility is the one with the water tank awaiting a trench. In a recent news story officials have said there is no danger to the public water supply and that the possibility the chemicals might reach the river is "remote."

Texfi finally did go bankrupt in 1999 and the bankruptcy court set aside $942,000 for cleaning up this Texfi site. Today there is $173,000 of that money left.

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