CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities has not ruled out illegal dumping for high levels of ethanol found at its Sugar Creek sewage treatment plant late Saturday, but can't say for sure it is the cause, either.
"It would be surprising if it were an accidental spill," said Barry Shearin, Deputy Director of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Sunday night. "To show up in that concentration, at that plant, would insinuate it would be more than a homeowner’s volume."
Still, investigators are having trouble pinpointing the source of the ethanol since the chemical -- commonly used as a fuel additive -- doesn't leave a distinctive smell like PCB's found Thursday at the city's Mallard Creek sewage treatment plant.
The ethanol could have also come from a much larger area -- meaning hundreds of miles of sewer pipe and thousands of manhole covers would have to be inspected.
The potentially cancer-causing PCB's found at the Mallard Creek plant were traced to a grease trap at a nearby shopping center. That waste was contained and is being tested and safely removed by hazardous waste contractors, said Shearin. That plant is back up and running.
Shearin also said the ethanol at the Sugar Creek plant was contained and not discharged into nearby Little Sugar Creek. The plant can handle treating the ethanol because it occasionally gets industrial waste to process.
Utility workers hope to get the Sugar Creek plant back online shortly, said Shearin.
Two scares back to back have police looking into possible criminal charges for whoever is responsible.
"The illegal dumping of toxic substances is something we're taking very seriously," said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Maj. Johnny Jennings, who is heading up the joint task force doing the investigation of illegal dumping at the Mallard Creek plant.
The person arrested for the dumping could face both state and federal felony charges.
At this point, Shearin said the two scares in one week just look like a strange coincidence.
"Now that we've tested it and components are so severely different, the general feeling is they're probably not connected," said Shearin, "but we don't know that conclusively."
Shearin said treatment at Sugar Creek means no hazardous materials are believed to have been discharged into the creek -- but the city is still warning residents to stay clear until further notice.
That worries residents who live along the creek, like Madison Park resident Tom Miller.
"We are concerned," said Miller. "We are hoping they are doing all the right work to find out what is going on, and we certainly want to find out who did it."
Anyone who sees something suspicious -- like a tanker truck dumping into a manhole -- is asked to call police or Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600.