Monday map time: Find a contaminated dry cleaning site near you

There is nothing “dry” about dry cleaning, and little that’s clean about it, either. Statewide, an estimated 1,500 dry cleaners – both operating and defunct  –  have potentially contaminated the water, dirt and/or air with toxic solvents.

PERC, or perchloroethylene, is the solvent most widely used at dry cleaners. Your clothes are essentially bathed in it. (You’ll never look at those velvet pants the same way again.)

The Environmental Protection Agency classifies PERC as a likely carcinogen, and it can damage the brain and nervous system.  (Isn’t taffeta looking less attractive by the minute?)

PERC can leak and spill from dry cleaning containers, or in less savory circumstances, be intentionally dumped. Whatever the cause, the effect is contaminated indoor air, dirt and groundwater, the latter of which can trespass well beyond the original property.

One of PERC’s many problems is that over time, it breaks down and becomes TCE, or trichloroethylene, a spelling bee word if there ever was one. Short-term exposure to TCE in indoor air raises a risk for fetal heart malformation during a woman’s first trimester of pregnancy.

(And it can come from other sources than dry cleaning. That solvent was found in the drinking water of several homes in Stony Hill, a Wake Forest subdivision, in 2006. It came from a shed where a business used the solvent to cleaned circuit boards and then poured it into a pipe that went right into the ground. That’s seriously bad karma.)

None of this is good news for the 1,500 potentially contaminated sites in North Carolina. Of those, NC Department of Environmental Quality has certified 361 into its Dry Cleaning Solvent Cleanup program. This interactive map shows the location of the program sites. Click on the symbol to learn more about each one.

Under the Dry Cleaning Solvent Cleanup program (often known as DSCA, after the 1997 legislation that created it) a dry cleaner or current property owner voluntarily enters the program and then must meet specific requirements to be certified. If the cleaners are still in business, they’re subject to state inspection.

Once certified, the property can then be cleaned up using mostly state funds; the property owner pays 1 to 2 percent of the cost. The state funds come from taxes on dry cleaning services and the sale of solvents.  But the fund balance has dropped significantly, from a peak of $37.5 million to $5.6 million as of June 30. Less money is coming in, and more is going out, as new sites are discovered and the costs of complex clean ups increase.

According to DEQ, the average cost to clean up a site is $330,000. To remedy just the 361 certified sites would cost $120 million. DEQ has to prioritize the sites, presumably placing the ones that pose the greatest health and environmental risks at the top of the list.

A high-profile dry cleaning contamination case emerged in Durham in 2011. The cleaners, One-Hour Martinizing, had become a BB&T bank branch and then a church. Since the neighborhood along West Club Boulevard is on city water, no drinking water was contaminated. However, the air beneath the former business, a nearby church and two nearby homes on Dollar Avenue had high levels of TCE. A groundwater plume of solvents was also traveling north, toward a mall.

State contractors tore down the building and excavated 3,850 tons of PERC-contaminated soil. For context, that is equivalent to the maximum weight of 15 787 airliners at takeoff.  The soil was vented, the groundwater and injected with PlumeStop, which is designed to..  well, stop the plume and reduce the amount of contamination.

Eliminating PERC altogether would at least halt future contamination. In fact, some environmentally friendly dry cleaners use carbon dioxide, which when pressurized, becomes a liquid. Add soap. It’s like a Soda Stream for your clothes.

If dry cleaning contamination interests you, and of course, it does, an annual report about the state of DSCA is due to the Environmental Management Commission this fall. Engage in a little bedtime reading by perusing last year’s. 2015-final-dry-cleaning-solvent-report

DSCA also has a working group, which meets Oct. 20 at DEQ’s headquarters, 217 W. Jones St., in Raleigh.


ACLU: Still more transparency necessary in Charlotte

The constitutional rights watchdogs at the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina issued a new statement this morning regarding the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. Here it is:

ACLU: Charlotte Police Must Release All Footage of Keith Lamont Scott Shooting; Disclosed Videos Raise Many Questions

CHARLOTTE – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina joins those calling on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) to publicly release all body and dash camera footage, as well as audio dispatch recordings, of the events surrounding the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old man with a traumatic brain injury, who, according to the Guardian’s database The Counted, was the 194th Black person killed by U.S. police this year.

On Saturday, the department released portions of body and dash camera footage showing the moments immediately before and after police shot and killed Mr. Scott. But the department has not released all the video footage of the moments leading up to and following the encounter, leaving many questions still unanswered.

Susanna Birdsong, Policy Counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina, released the following statement:

“The videos released this weekend raise a host of questions about why police shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott, and whether, in doing so, the officers involved violated state or federal law, in addition to failing to follow the department’s own rules regarding the use of deadly force, de-escalation, when to wear and activate body cameras, and more.

“In the interest of full transparency, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police must stop releasing information to the public on a piecemeal basis and disclose all remaining body and dash camera footage, as well as audio of dispatch recordings, of the moments before and after Mr. Scott was killed. The public and Mr. Scott’s family deserve to see and hear all available information about whether something was in his hand and why a man who was suspected of no crime, other than the newly disclosed accusation that he possessed a minor amount of marijuana, is now dead.”

On the use of force: Read more


NC gun group is way over the line with latest menacing gesture toward Hillary Clinton

There’s another new and frighteningly horrific development in the world of North Carolina right-wing policy and politics this morning. The following has been posted to the website of the pro-gun group known as Grass Roots North Carolina:

The ‘Hillary Clinton Special’

Grant Gardner, GRNC-PVF Treasurer

Get an AR-15 and elect pro-gun candidates!

We all know that if Hillary Clinton is elected President on November 8, panic buying will ensure that by November 9, there won’t be a gun (or ammunition) available for love nor money. That’s why the GRNC Political Victory Fund – GRNC’s federally registered political action committee – is giving you what might be among the last chances to get…

  • A Palmetto State Armory M4-configured AR-15;
  • 1,000 rounds of high quality ammunition, and (wait for it);
  • A FREE PORTRAIT OF HILLARY CLINTON! (Of course, we won’t tell you what to do with the photo, but when we ran a picture of Hillary on the front of our newsletter, we heard it was very popular at the range.)

Why GRNC-PVF is critically important

GRNC is restricted by law from using organizational funds to oust anti-gun politicians. Instead, direct election action is accomplished by our federal political action committee, the GRNC Political Victory Fund, which makes candidate recommendations and conducts “independent expenditures” for or against candidates via radio spots, mailings and automated phone calls.

Buying raffle tickets means that in addition to getting a chance at an attractively configured carbine (M4 feed ramps, w/16” barrel and mid-length gas tube, 1:7 twist chrome-lined barrel, Keymod handguard to mount the latest accessories), you will help GRNC-PVF keep anti-gunners like Roy Cooper, Deborah Ross and Josh Stein from occupying offices critical to gun rights.

Moreover, tickets are cheap: $10 ea, 3/$25, 7/$50 or 15/$100. Winner takes all and tickets are limited, so act now to get this attractive carbine and 1000 rounds of .223 ammo. (What you do with the picture is between you and Hillary). Get tickets now at:


In the name of all that is decent in our country, the terribly troubled souls behind this need to take it down immediately and apologize as well. What’s more, Donald Trump, Gov. Pat McCrory, Senator Richard Burr, Sen. Buck Newton and all other conservative politicians who have attempted to make gun ownership an issue in their campaigns should disavow the group ASAP.


On Charlotte: Most pols responsible, but NC GOP needs to pipe down

Most North Carolina political leaders of both major parties in North Carolina have been responsibly muted and cautious in their response to the recent events in Charlotte. With the notable exception of the very troubled Congressman Robert Pittenger, who seized the opportunity to make an utterly absurd, racist comment last week, others — including Gov. McCrory, Attorney General Cooper and other major statewide candidates — have taken the high road and eschewed the opportunity to pander and demagogue.

And then there are the Internet magpies at the North Carolina Republican Party. On multiple occasions, GOP staffers have issued statements on Twitter that are way over the line. Throughout the last few days, party boss Dallas Woodhouse and his colleague Ricky Diaz have been spewing hateful tweets and incorrect information, offering an almost constant critique of of disfavored officials and spreading rumors of the kind one would expect from some basement dwelling Internet troll.

At times, it seemed last week that scarcely an hour went by in which Woodhouse and/or Diaz weren’t calling people names, attacking Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts in derogatory terms (Woodhouse called her “a disgrace of a mayor”) or attempting to incite anger and outrage.

If your stomach can take it, you can check out Woodhouse’s tweets here and Diaz’ here.

The bottom line: Let’s hope that in the new week, the GOP staffers take a chill pill, find some inner calm and decency and pipe down. And if they don’t, let’s hope Gov. McCrory — the man who is, in effect, their boss — tells them to shut up.



NC DEQ shaves Duke Energy’s $6.8 million fine; utility will pay less — again


This post has been corrected to reflect the fine only regarding the Dan River spill, not the $25 million assessed to Duke for the Sutton facility and the groundwater contamination across the state.

The Friday surprise out of the NC Department of Environmental Quality is that it has reduced the fine against Duke Energy related to the February 2014 coal ash spill in Eden.

In February, state regulators fined the utility $6.8 million for the spill at Dan River. Duke Energy challenged the fine.  The $6 million settlement prevents the state from incurring additional legal costs associated with lengthy litigation and allows the state to focus all its resources on permanently closing coal ash ponds.

From WFAE:

In a statement, DEQ said: “The $6 million settlement prevents the state from incurring additional legal costs associated with lengthy litigation and allows the state to focus all its resources on permanently closing coal ash ponds.”

From the DEQ press release:

“This is yet another example of the McCrory administration’s commitment to environmental protection,” said Secretary Donald van der Vaart. “Unlike previous administrations, we will take enforcement actions against anyone that does not comply with the law so that we can prevent future environmental catastrophes.”

However, for environmental advocates, state toxicologists and people who live near the coal ash ponds, this is yet another example of the tail — Duke Energy — wagging the dog — DEQ. They have repeatedly criticized and in some cases, sued, DEQ for its leniency toward the utility, the former employer of Gov. Pat McCrory.

Contamination is still leaking into waterways. Just last week, third-party testing paid for by the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is suing Duke, showed high levels of arsenic in the Yadkin River near the Buck Plant in Salisbury.

Under the Coal Ash Management Act, Duke Energy is required to provide permanent alternative water supplies to residents around coal ash facilities by the fall of 2018. The utility must also excavate and close the Dan River facility’s coal ash ponds by Aug. 1, 2019.  All Duke coal ash ponds must be closed by 2029.