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DEQ orders fixes after Haywood diesel spill; Downstream water advisory lifted

NC DEQ test results from water samples taken on May 31 showed that there was still diesel in the water on the hospital property.
Lilly Knoepp
NC DEQ test results from water samples taken on May 31 showed that there was still diesel in the water on the hospital property.

Water testing after more than 2,000 gallons of diesel spilledabout two weeks ago from Haywood Regional Medical Center shows diesel remains immediately below the hospital. Local officials say the water downstream from the hospital is now safe for recreation.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ) reviewed the results from tests of the water in Jones Cove Branch after the May 25 spill stemming from an equipment failure. The lab received water samples on May 31.

The tests results reviewed by NC DEQ’s Division of Water Resources office in Asheville found an elevated level of petroleum constituent, naphthalene, in the surface water in the drainage creek, according to DEQ results shared with BPR.

The water testing report recommends continued surface water monitoring.

In late May, Haywood County Environmental Health Services Division issued a recreational water advisory for all of Jones Cove Branch, Richland Creek below Jones Cove Branch and Pigeon River below Richland Creek. Now, Garron Bradish, Development Services Director for Haywood County Environmental Health Services, says that the creeks below the hospital property are testing safe.

“I think some of the storms that we've had have helped dilute that at the lower [level]. The booms are still in place at the other two locations, but the sampling there is coming back fine now,” Bradish said. “We’ve lifted the advisory out on Richland Creek so that it’s just at this point at the hospital on Jones Cove Creek.”

The spill is still under investigation. A DEQ spokesperson shared that the Division of Waste Management Underground Storage Tank Section issued a notice of required actions in connection with the spill. According to DWM staff, the hospital is in the process of updating its Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures plan to prevent future spills, the spokesperson said.

The spill could result in a potential notice of violation from the Division of Water Resources. DEQ said staff may request additional information and then will determine any regulatory response, which can include a fine.

Haywood Regional Medical Center paid for Hepaco, an environmental hazmat contractor, to remove spilled diesel with vacuum trucks, a Haywood County spokesperson confirmed last month.

Workers also placed specialized containment booms across Jones Cove Branch and Richland Creek and reinforced existing booms. These absorbent booms are used to collect petroleum on the water surface.

Absorbent booms sit across the drainage creek on the hospital property.
Lilly Knoepp
Absorbent booms sit across the drainage creek on the hospital property.

Haywood Regional Medical Center spokesperson Andie Robbins told BPR that the hospital continues to work with DEQ and other agencies to fully remediate the spill. The oil-absorbent booms are still being maintained on the property and she says the hospital inspects them regularly.

“We also collect and analyze surface water samples weekly, sharing results with the DEQ. This is an ongoing effort, and we remain committed to following all guidance until remediation is complete,” Robbins said in an email.

Hepaco, the environmental hazard contractor originally called by the hospital after the spill, has continued to test the creek and monitor the containment devices in the water.

Bradish says that there isn’t an expected timeline for the clean-up to be finished but water monitoring will continue.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.