Cleaning up PCBs in Little Brier Creek and its streams will cost at least $5 million, while fish from those waterways may not be safe to eat until 2021, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

At an Aug. 14 public meeting, EPA and state officials discussed the proposed cleanup, which includes excavating an unknown amount of contaminated sediment in Little Brier Creek, lower Brier Creek and their tributaries. The dirt will then be taken to a hazardous waste landfill offsite. The cleanup plan includes a five-year review, monitoring, stream restoration and a mussel study.

The highest PCB readings were in sediment in Little Brier Creek, and were four times higher than the federal limit of 1 part per million. State and Wake County officials have issued fish consumption advisories for Brier Creek Reservoir and Lake Crabtree. Those advisories are expected to last for nine and 14 years, respectively.

Catfish and large-mouthed bass found downstream had elevated levels of PCBs in their tissues, although since fish can travel great distances and PCBs are found many places, it is unclear if the Ward site is the source of that contamination.

“I’ve seen fishing reduced dramatically,” said Lake Crabtree Park Manager Drew Cade. “It’s catch-and-release only. If I see somebody with a bucket of fish, I have the authority to tell them to throw it out for their own protection.”

The PCB contamination originated at Ward Transformer, an 11-acre tract on Mt. Herman Road near Raleigh-Durham International Airport in northwest Raleigh. Little Brier Creek and Lake Crabtree are downstream of Ward. From 1964 to 2005, electrical transformers, which contained PCBs, were repaired, built, sold and reconditioned there, releasing the chemical into the environment.

Chronic exposure to PCBs, formally known as polychlorinated biphenyls, can cause cancer. The federal government banned the manufacture of PCBs in 1977, but old electrical transformers often still contain them.

A separate cleanup at Ward will require excavating 100 tons of dirt and using a technology called direct-fired thermal desorption to destroy the PCBs. The EPA is negotiating with the eight potentially responsible parties for the contamination, including Progress Energy, for the cleanups at Ward and areas downstream. (See “Contamination cleanup planned“.)

Want your say?

The public comment period for the cleanup proposal continues through Sept. 4. Comments can be sent by e-mail to or to Luis E. Flores, Superfund Division-SRSEB, US EPA, 61 Forsyth St. SW, Atlanta, Ga., 30303.

Documents related to the Ward Transformer cleanup are available at the North Raleigh Library, 7009 Harps Mill Road.

Read a summary of the proposed cleanup of the creeks and streams (PDF, 3.1 MB)