Glenola: What happened?
Beginning in 1981, many residents reported health symptoms they believed to be connected to Trinity’s manufacturing and expressed concern about the odor emitted from the plant. They noticed fires, spills, noxious odors, and flurries of fiber particles. Some had animals die or saw rusted chemical barrels in a creek. In the mid-1990s, concerned residents formed Glenola Citizens for a Healthy Environment to ask for more government monitoring and enforcement.
In 1994 the state health department found toxic chemical contamination in two Trinity wells used for drinking water, and the county health department ordered Trinity to stop improperly disposing sewage and waste water.
One year later, state health inspectors measured TDI levels as high as 10 times and methylene chloride levels 38 times higher than the acceptable levels. In response to the methylene chloride levels, the director of NC Department of Environmental Management (NC DEM) issued the state’s first “toxics call.” This required Trinity to decrease its emissions. Trinity appealed the toxics call, and NC DEM negotiated a settlement requiring Trinity to cut emissions in half by the end of 1996, install new foam manufacturing equipment not reliant on methylene chloride, and clean up tainted ground water around the facilities.
The federal EPA got involved in 1996 and discovered an additional compound of TDI in Trinity’s emissions. When the new form of TDI was accounted for, exposure estimates doubled. The EPA also discovered contamination in two neighboring wells.
In 1996, the North Carolina Division of Air Quality (NC DAQ) found methylene chloride at 27 times and TDI at 206 times their acceptable levels. State health director Ron Levine declared the company a “public health nuisance” and ordered Trinity to stop all processes that could release TDI until it set up a monitoring system and presented a plan for reducing emissions.
Shortly after that, tests showed levels of TDI four times higher than the state standard. Trinity president Jerry Drye closed the facilities for several weeks to install new smokestacks. When new equipment and taller smokestacks were installed, Trinity was allowed to resume full production.
In 1997, The EPA issued an emergency order under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The order required Trinity to test the groundwater of all residents within three-fourths of a mile of facilities and provide bottled water to households with contaminated water. Tests showed that at least one household’s water was contaminated with more than ten times the safe amount of methylene chloride. Trinity blamed the contamination on the previous owner and tried to convince a court to lift the order, but the court upheld the EPA order.
Glenola residents trying to secure safe drinking water had a difficult time convincing the nearby town of Archdale to extend their water lines, but they put pressure on their legislators and were able to secure money from the NC General Assembly for the project.
In late August 1997, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) declared that Trinity Fiber was a public health and safety hazard. This motivated state health director Levine to again declare Trinity a “public health nuisance.“
In response to ATSDR tests finding high levels of pollutants in the surrounding air, the Randolph County Health Department recommended that 100 residents voluntarily evacuate their homes the night before Trinity was scheduled to close. About 60 residents chose to evacuate temporarily. Most returned the next day.
Trinity Foam and Fiber was forced to close by the state on September 3, 1997.
“We were being told we were crazy. So we organized the Glenola Citizens for a Healthy Environment. Every time they would tell us, ‘Oh this is the truth’ we would go and do our homework and say, that’s a lie – this is the truth.”
– Community Member