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Two middle schools in Winston-Salem sit on contaminated ground

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- As students walk up to Hanes and Lowrance middle schools in northern Winston-Salem, a loud buzzing noise follows them to the front door of the building. It’s the sound of a very strong pump, part of a $665,000 project financed by a manufacturer across the street to clean up a large plume of underground toxic waste, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

The plume contains at least one chemical known to cause cancer and another linked to it. About 30 feet to 90 feet below the surface, the plume stretches roughly a third of a mile. It stretches from the source, a decades-old chemical dump, and across the street under the joint school building and its grounds. State environment regulators have flagged the whole underground plume as one of the worst hazardous waste sites in North Carolina. Of the 531 hazardous waste sites on a priority list kept by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, it is ranked 88, in the top 20 percent.

Over the past few years, concentrations of one contaminant under a portion of the school campus have grown stronger. That spot, where the underground contamination is the worst, is where Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools plans to build a new $15.4 million school to replace the aging Lowrance, the only dedicated middle school for special-needs students.

Drinking water is safe on campus; the schools are connected to city water. But since the contaminants can turn into vapor and seep up from the ground into buildings, it’s the air quality in the schools that raises questions.

Read full story: The Winston-Salem Journal