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The Farm springs a leak

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More than 600 gallons of treated wastewater leaked from a 175,000-gallon storage pond last month at the UNC Research Resource Facility, also known as the Farm, in rural Orange County.

Although the leak was detected Nov. 18, Orange County residents living near the Farm— so called because it houses animals undergoing experiments at UNC's main campus—were not informed until Dec. 11, three days before a community meeting with UNC officials. (Update: UNC officials later told the Indy it misstated the date of the notification: UNC and DENR spoke by phone on Dec. 10.)

In November, the Indy reported on residents' environmental concerns about the facility's expansion and its impact on the air and water quality and quantity. The Farm currently houses about 100 dogs undergoing experiments for research on muscular dystrophy. Expansion plans call for housing for another 100 dogs and at least 100 hogs, which are being used in research on diabetes and heart disease. Previous tenants include squirrel monkeys, chickens and rodents. All the animals are kept inside.

According to correspondence between UNC and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, it is unknown when the leak started. Workers at the facility noticed discharge coming from near the storage pond; dye tests later confirmed that the pond liner was leaking.

Engineers emphasized that no wastewater reached nearby tributaries that flow into Collins Creek, which in turn, reaches the Haw River and Jordan Lake. Workers are pumping the discharge back into the storage pond until the level of rainwater decreases in the pond so the liner can be inspected.

Residents have also expressed concerns about incinerator emissions, which include low levels of mercury. It has been used about six times a year to burn mouse carcasses, UNC officials said at the Dec. 14 community meeting. The ashes are not disposed of on-site, UNC officials added, yet State Construction Office documents show that in January 2007, graders had to stop work when they unearthed ashes, hair and bonelike matter. Asked about the report, UNC officials said they could not comment on it because they had not seen it, nor were they aware of the discovery.

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