By Joyce Lavene
Last week, an old problem was brought to the forefront of people’s minds once again. Four teenagers were questioned by Mecklenburg County Police after a fire was started at the Ram Leather Care building on Albemarle Road. All four were charged with trespassing. A 15-year-old in the group was also charged with burning a building.
Authorities say they don’t think any new environmental danger was caused by the blaze.
Ram Leather Care closed in 1993 after the county discovered that potentially hazardous chemicals were found in nearby wells. In 1991 and 1992, DENR issued several violation notices to the site owners. Violations included storage of hazardous waste on site for longer than 90 days, improper or lack of marking on hazardous waste containers, discharge of hazardous wastes onto the ground and into the ground water.
The building, on the Cabarrus County line, was the site of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund cleanup in 2003.
In 2003, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, held two public availability sessions in Mint Hill at the John M. McEwen Assembly Room. Agency representatives were on hand to talk with community members and learn about their health concerns related to the Ram Leather Care Superfund Site.
Most residents wanted to know if their wells had been contaminated and how they could be impacted by the chemicals tetrachloroethene (PCE) and trichloroethylene(TCE) found in the soil and water.
In response, officials met with residents and tested their wells, finding potential cancer causing levels of those chemicals. These chemicals are linked with liver problems, also heart disease and other diseases, especially dangerous for young children.
In 2007, soil excavation took place under strict standards and a pump and treat water system was installed to help alleviate the problems. Water samples at that time showed there were still elevated levels of those chemicals in the water and soil.
The Ram Leather Care site was a former dry cleaner. The building is vacant now, still on a 10-acre parcel of land, surrounded by residential property. More than 500 people live within one mile of the site and more than 7,000 people live within four miles. The site was used for many years as a flea market. A housing subdivision was planned there in recent years but those plans did not go through when Cabarrus County couldn’t supply water to the area.
Mint Hill, Midland, Idlewild and Robinson volunteer firefighters responded to the blaze. The Mecklenburg County Fire Marshal and CMPD arson detectives are investigating. No injuries were reported.