Winston-Salem, NC -- Lead smelting factories are long gone but some of their by-products still remain.
Our news partners at Gannett and USA Today launched a massive investigation into abandoned lead factory sites and the potential problems they've left behind.
The investigation uncovered more than 230 empty and abandoned lead factories across the country and the land beneath and around them is still contaminated.
Two of those sites are found in North Carolina; one of those sites is in Charlotte. The other is in Winston-Salem.
It's the Douglas Battery company, an old lead-acid batteries site which opened in 1937 as Winston Lead Smelting Company. It's on Battery Drive near the intersection of Highway 52 and Interstate 40.
The company still makes batteries, but the lead smelting stopped in 1969.
An acid spill on the site spawned the EPA and North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources to unearth 2,100 cubic feet of waste flue dust and 120,000 cubic feet of crushed battery casings buried under the company's property.
In testing 36 samples of soil in 2009, investigators found several areas near the factory tested positive, including the adjacent residential areas.
The state says the areas closest to the residential areas have lead contamination within the allowable state levels which is 400mg/kg.
But as you get closer to the factory, the lead levels are higher and in two soil samples, more than double the allowable levels.
The state, however, insists there's no exposure danger to those who live near the contaminated area.
93-year-old Ruby Spivey who has lived in the area since she was five-years-old says she believes the state's assessment.
She says that doesn't take away from her memories of the smelting back when the neighborhood was flourishing and cars and trucks were in and out of the Douglas plant.
According to Spivey, everyone who lived around the plant knew about the smelting. She said even friends and family members, at one point, worked at Douglas Battery Company.
But slowly it got to a point where she said she started realizing there was something going on.
She says it was when she'd see huge smokestacks throwing cinders onto her family's garden and grass.
"[It was] when the cows started dying from eating the grass," she said as she pointed towards her living room window which still faces the plant. "See what it would do, it would cripple them and then they'd get down and then die."
Ruby says she and her family started getting concerned after seeing that.
It's worth noting that in those times there wasn't much information about lead poisoning and what Spivey saw may not directly be linked to the factory.
Also, there weren't any state or federal health or environmental regulations as we now have.
And the state makes it clear that the company itself was not doing anything illegal.
But the 93-year-old says living so close to the plant back then, she couldn't even sit on her own porch and relax in the evenings.
"Couldn't do it," she said after a short sigh. "[The smoke] would just absolutely choke me and I'd get my butt right back in the house."
Spivey's 72-year-old son also grew up in the neighborhood and says about the smoke and his family's proximity, "you knew it couldn't be healthy."
The Spivey family says the owners of Douglas Battery Company have always very nice to them. And as we now know, based on the testings done in 2009, she and her neighbors near the factory are safe.
In fact, in a statement this afternoon, the state reiterated that "any potential human exposures and releases to the environment have been addressed according to the law."
And that at this time, there's really no evidence of hazardous waste or illegal waste disposal at the site.
The city of Winston-Salem says the Douglas Battery land is outside their authority when it comes to the lead contamination but they say contaminated areas have been deemed federal Brownfield sites and in their experience it's very expensive to clean up.
But, even though the contamination is not a threat, here's why it could be a problem.
When the factories were operating in the 1900s they produced lead dust.
The heaviest particles fell closest to the factory but winds carried lighter particles which fell onto soil or buildings and it built up over time.
If left undisturbed, the lead remains near the soil's surface and that could pose a health problem.
Between lead from factories, lead paint and lead dust from older vehicles, lead contamination can be a modern-day problem.
But there are things you can do in your home to reduce your risk: plant gardens away from structures, as many homes have lead close to the building in what's called the drip-line.
Have your soil tested, and have the health department test for lead in the paint in your home - especially if your house was built before 1978.
And always make sure your kids wash their hands after playing outside.
You can read more about the USA Today investigation into Douglas Battey and related documents here.
WFMY News 2