Environment, Legislature

DEQ had GenX info under Secretary Donald van der Vaart; under Michael Regan, delay attributed to scheduling conflicts

Donald van der Vaart, former Department of Environmental Quality secretary, was in charge when state officials first learned last fall there could be a problem with GenX in the Lower Cape Fear River. And the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority knew even earlier.

But not until June of this year, when the Star-News in Wilmington reviewed and reported on the study, did DEQ under the current administration begin to investigate the presence of GenX in drinking water.

According to a letter sent Aug. 14 from DEQ and the Health and Human Services department to  Sen. Bill Cook, and copied to the Senate and House leadership, in November 2016, “the previous administration” received a research report from the EPA and NC State University scientists regarding the Cape Fear watershed. This study, conducted in part by NC State professor Detlaf Knappe, showed GenX was present in the Lower Cape Fear and in untreated water at the Cape Fear utility. In 2013, the researchers found average levels of 631 parts per trillion of GenX in 37 samples of untreated water.

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority received the same study in May 2016, according to the letter.

The letter was in response to communications sent last week from the Senate Republican Caucus. In that correspondence, lawmakers asked DEQ Secretary Michael Regan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen a series of questions about Chemours and GenX. Lawmakers also requested a justification for their departments’ combined $2.5 million emergency appropriation.

Lawmakers had set a deadline of Aug. 14, at 5 p.m. for Cohen and Regan to provide the information.

Jamie Kritzer, DEQ communications director, told NCPW that it’s unclear who at DEQ originally received the study last November. Kritzer said the reason the current administration didn’t act more quickly is because this past spring, several staff members from the Division of Water Resources had tried to meet with Knappe to better understand the study results, but scheduling conflicts prevented that meeting from happening.

But it appears neither Chemours nor GenX  rose to enough importance under van der Vaart to merit a mention in the transition documents provided to the new DEQ administration. (Transition documents are used to transfer institutional knowledge from one administration to another.)

However a different study by Knappe regarding another emerging, unregulated contaminant — 1,4 dioxane — does. Under the heading, “Special studies: 1,4-dioxane,” Jay Zimmerman, chief of the Division of Water Resources, notes that the presence of high levels of 1,4-dioxane in the Haw River “may be an indicator of things to come as previously unregulated emerging pollutants are studied.”

The chemical, used to stabilize solvents, is being discharged by industries upstream near Burlington and Greensboro. Zimmerman wrote that federal discharge permits would be modified to require additional sampling to “better isolate the issue.” He also wrote that “efforts to reduce sources will result in significant cost and potential loss of industry opportunities.”

A geologist, Zimmerman has been with DEQ since 1987. He managed the section overseeing groundwater protection and animal operations before van der Vaart promoted him to DWR head in 2015.

A lack of scientific data is hampering the rule-making on GenX and other unregulated contaminants, Regan and Cohen wrote to lawmakers. “While the state has the authority to enact regulatory standards, it does not currently have sufficient research at the state or federal level to make these determinations for GenX and other unregulated compounds on a consistent basis.”

The two agencies are requesting a total of $2.5 million. The bulk of that funding — $2 million — would go to DEQ to add 16 positions, plus pay for sampling and monitoring for GenX and other emerging contaminants throughout the state. Since 2013, 70 positions within water quality have been eliminated, resulting in a backlog in processing wastewater permits — some as long as two years.

Regan and Cohen also mention the proposed restrictions in House Bill 162, which would prohibit state agencies from making permanent stronger rules than the federal government’s, even in the case of “serious or unforeseen threats,” like the GenX crisis.

Meanwhile, DEQ is assembling documents related to the Chemours investigation, as required by federal subpoena. The NC Department of Environmental Quality is scheduled to testify before a grand jury Tuesday, Aug. 22, at 9 a.m. at the Lennon Federal Building in Wilmington.

 

Response to Senate Questions 8-14-17 Copy by LisaSorg on Scribd

2 Comments


  1. richard manyes

    August 15, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    You have to wonder if Gov Perdue’s secretary of DEQ left anything about coal ash in her transition document for Gov McCrory? I am sure it would have been helpful – something like,

    “Oh, and on the 100 million tons of coal as we didn’t do anything about – we did write a memo that will bar you from fining Duke on coal ash – I hope that’s ok.”

  2. richard manyes

    August 20, 2017 at 7:49 am

    I guess NC Policy Watch is going “radio silent” on GenX until Gov Eudy tells you what the next steps are. Will they force Regan to resign to stop the bleeding? I am sure Regan simply did what he was told – Cooper got a lot of money from Chemours – they needed some cover on this potentially very expensive debacle. They fed Cooper and Regan the legal language to use to protect them from lawsuits. Apparently Nick Orscher is on it –

    So are you all protecting a corrupt official who is protecting a chemcial giant dumping toxins in Wilmington’s drinking water supply? And for a while I actually thought you all cared about the environment.

Check Also

Chemours plant in Fayetteville is leaking like a sieve, this time into the air

Late this afternoon, the state Department of Environmental ...

Top Stories from NCPW

  • News
  • Commentary

The controversy over “Silent Sam,” the Confederate monument on UNC’s Chapel Hill campus, has been ra [...]

North Carolina tries to mine its swine and deal with a poop problem that keeps piling up A blanket o [...]

This story is part of "Peak Pig," an examination of the hog industry co-published with Env [...]

Few issues in the North Carolina’s contentious policy wars have been more consistently front and cen [...]

Five years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a jaw-dropping civil rights lawsuit again [...]

Will Burr and Tillis really vote for this? For much of the 20th Century, one of the labels that Amer [...]

President Trump and Congressional Republicans aim to rebrand enormous tax cuts for the wealthiest ho [...]

20—number of years since a bipartisan coalition in Congress passed the Children’s Health Insurance P [...]

Spotlight on Journalism

We invite you to join a special celebration of investigative journalism! The evening will feature Mike Rezendes, a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe Spotlight Team known for their coverage of the cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

Tickets available NOW!

Spotlight On Journalism

This event will benefit NC Policy Watch, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center. Sponsorship opportunities available now!

Featured | Special Projects

NC Budget 2017
The maze of the NC Budget is complex. Follow the stories to follow the money.
Read more


NC Redistricting 2017
New map, new districts, new lawmakers. Here’s what you need to know about gerrymandering in NC.
Read more