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By David Perlmutt, The Charlotte Observer (TNS)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Water quality inspectors discovered earlier this month that varying colors of field paint had been unknowingly discharged from Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium into Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s storm water system – likely since the stadium’s first game in 1996.

The inspectors found the discharge on Dec. 3 during a routine “stream assessment” at a remote stormwater outfall, water quality supervisor John McCulloch said Monday.

At first the paint wash flowing into the creek was white, but on subsequent twice-daily visits, inspectors found that it changed to different colors – but mostly the colors of Florida State and Georgia Tech universities, McCulloch said. The two teams played in the ACC Championship football game at the stadium on Dec. 6.

That’s when they began to suspect the stadium.

The paint wash, he said, should have gone into the sanitary sewer line from a drain in the stadium’s “wash down basin,” where grounds crew workers clean paint sprayers they use to create the field’s end zones, lines, numbers, hash-marks and sidelines.

Instead, that basin was illegally plumbed into the storm water system, he said.

“We began to follow the coloration upstream and were able to isolate where it was coming from to a small area,” McCulloch said. Ultimately, by looking in manholes, their search led inspectors to the stadium.

“They were genuinely surprised,” he said. Using dyes, the inspectors found the plumbing problem. He described the paint used as “benign. It is a harmless product.”

Still, in a Dec. 12 letter to Panthers facility manager Matthew Getz, McCullough said the Panthers could be fined $5,000 a day beginning “with the first day of violation” until the problem was fixed.

He said stadium officials were cooperative and moved instantly to stop discharging paint through the drain.

City inspectors approved the new drain last week, and storm water inspectors gave their approval Monday. McCulloch said Monday the Panthers won’t be fined because they didn’t know they were doing anything illegal and immediately made all the requested repairs.

Scott Paul, the stadium’s operations director, said Monday the Panthers didn’t know the drain had been improperly plumbed when the stadium was built.

“We made an assumption during inspections when the stadium was built that this floor drain was approved for this exact use,” Paul said. “When we were notified of this situation last week, we immediately capped the drain where the guys were washing paint equipment and had it filled with concrete.”

Until a new four-inch pipe was installed and connected to the sewer system, workers washed their equipment on the Panthers practice field at a drain “that we know is routed to the sanitary sewer,” Paul said.

Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins said the stadium shouldn’t be putting paint into the storm water or sewer systems.

“Even if it is not going into the environment, it is creating a significant problem that we all have to pay for at a wastewater treatment plant,” Perkins said. “If they have that much paint causing that much of a problem, then there are other ways that they could keep their equipment clean without mixing it in the water.”

Photo: North Carolina National Guard

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