Buxton Beach Access

There is a beach closure at the Buxton Beach Access in Cape Hatteras National Seashore due to a public health advisory issued after a petroleum odor and sheen were detected in the ocean. The source of the contamination is petroleum-contaminated soils near a former military site. The closure has been in effect since September 1, 2023, and ongoing testing has revealed the presence of various contaminants. However, no measures have been taken yet to clean up this stretch of oceanfront. The Coastal Federation is now working alongside the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) to get the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take action and clean up the contaminated waters.


Petroleum, naphthalene, methylnaphthalene, and other petroleum byproducts and chemicals are currently polluting a public beach on Hatteras Island in the Village of Buxton.  This contamination is the result of Naval activity between 1956 and 1982, in which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is responsible for remediation.  

Coastal storms, erosion, and continual tidal flooding have unearthed massive concrete building foundations and other jagged structures abandoned by the Navy and the Army Corps in the 1980s. These ruins are now obstructing the beach and causing physical hazards, particularly at high tide where swimmers and surfers could crash into them. Septic system components and an extraordinary number of wires are protruding from the dunes. The Corps should have removed all these hazards in the mid-1980s but since they remain it has rendered this area of the National Seashore unsafe and unusable for people and wildlife alike.

The Army Corps is required to remove these dangerous items under its federal legal obligations under the Formerly Used Defense Sites Program, as well as commitments made in writing to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, the National Park Service, and the public at large. (Documentation included below)

On April 5, 2024, the Federation and the Southern Environmental Law Center submitted a demand letter to the USACE insisting they meet their legal obligation of removal of petroleum pollution, building fragments, septic systems, and all other hazards left behind by the Navy at its formerly used defense site (FUDS) in Cape Hatteras National Seashore near the village of Buxton. 

This letter was the result of multiple on-site visits, public meetings, and information gathering since the site originally tested positive for petroleum contamination in September 2023.

What Can You Do?

If you notice any plumes, sheens, or fish kills in this area, avoid coming into contact with these waters and report these conditions by calling the EPA/National Response Center at 800.424.8802

The Buxton Civic Association (BCA) recently launched a Change.org petition to encourage the public to demand an immediate solution for the environmental and public safety hazards at Buxton Beach.

If you live in or near the impacted area and have a private drinking well, it is recommended that you have the well water sampled to ensure it does not contain contaminants. If the well is a drinking water well, contact the Dare County Department of Health and Human Services at 252.475.5088 to schedule sampling.

Key Resources

  • NC Coastal Federation and SELC’s Demand Letter to USACE (April 5, 2024)
  • Stay up-to-date on National Park Service site status and closures, here 
  • Review the complete history of the military use of this site: here
  • National Park Service: Buxton Beach Access photo album
  • Dare County Resolution requesting immediate action(s) be taken to address the dangers posed to public health (March 3, 2024)
  • Public Health Advisory (March 25, 2024): Issued by the Dare County Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) in conjunction with North Carolina DHHS, Division of Public Health and Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Questions? Contact coastal advocate Alyson Flynn at alysonf@nccoast.org. You can also reach them at 252-393-8185.