Environment

Climate change throws shade on five vulnerable tree species in North Carolina

A Carolina hemlock in Stone Mountain State Park Photo: Creative Commons by Adam Lynch

The Carolina Hemlock has enough problems. The tree, which is native to the Appalachian Mountains, is under attack by the voracious hemlock wooly adelgid. And now climate change, with its attendant extremes in temperature and precipitation, also threatens the tree, which is found only in North Carolina and a smattering of places in Virginia.

A study ranking the vulnerability of trees to climate change was published earlier this year in the the peer-reviewed journal New Forests. The scientific team, which included Kevin Potter of NC State University, assessed the vulnerability of 339 tree species in the continental US and Alaska. The team graded the trees in Classes A through E, based on their exposure to climate change, their sensitivity and adaptability.

Roughly 10 percent — 35 — of the species were classified as A, meaning they are at highest risk for extinction or species degradation because of changes in the earth’s climate. Of these 24 have a geographic range in the Southeast and one in North Carolina: the chalk maple. It ranks third of all US species in vulnerability.

Of the 335 US species, studied, the chalk maple is one of the most threatened species by climate change

The Carolina hemlock fell into Class B, the second-highest risk classification. There were 43 species in that class, 15 of them in the Southeast.

North Carolina is home to three species in Class C, also at-risk: Paw paw, southern crabapple and the black maple.

There are several keys to species survival as the climate changes. Trees with a wide geographic range, the study said, have already tolerated different climates in their evolutionary history. They should be able to adapt to ongoing and future changes, including droughts and fires, flooding and temperature change.

Trees that can’t adapt will likely undergo what’s known as genetic degradation. That phenomenon occurs when a tree is unable to maintain sufficient genetic variation to adapt to changing conditions.

The scientific team recommends that for the most vulnerable species, like the chalk maple, foresters need to plan for conservation methods. That could include “assisted migration” — planting the species in more habitable climes. Even lower-risk trees will likely need some type of beneficial human intervention — ironically, to offset the harm humans have done.

 

agriculture, Environment

This Week in Pollution: Randolph Packing cattle slaughter plant in Asheboro fined $48,000

The process of slaughtering cattle produces contaminants that, can be washed into wastewater discharge and into creeks, streams and rivers. (Photo: wikicommons)

The Environmental Protection Agency has fined Randolph Packing, a cattle slaughter plant in Asheboro, $48,000 for violations of the Clean Water Act. According to a consent agreement with the company, Randolph Packing had violated the terms of its federal wastewater discharge permit for five years.

From 2011 to 2016, the company discharged “industrial stormwater” into drains throughout the facility. That pollution then flowed into two drainage ditches and into Haskett Creek, a tributary of the Deep River. With the Haw, the Deep River forms the headwaters of the Cape Fear River Basin.

Several segments of Haskett Creek have consistently been placed on the federal impaired waters list, also known as the 303d. Contamination from several sources in and around the creek has contributed to poor natural habitats and low levels of dissolved oxygen. Waste discharge from slaughterhouses can also consume oxygen in water, and leaving too little for aquatic life.

The document didn’t detail the contents of “industrial stormwater.” However, large amounts of blood and other animal waste are common byproducts of commercial slaughterhouses.

In addition to its environmental violations, in 2010, Randolph Packing recalled 96,000 pounds of beef products it had shipped to from wholesalers because of possible E. coli contamination.

Environment

Update: DEQ posts map, permits and info about ongoing GenX investigation

This map shows where DEQ is sampling for the presence of GenX, an unregulated chemical, which Chemours has discharged into the Cape Fear River. GenX has been detected in public drinking water in Wilmington. (Map: NC DEQ)

The NC Department of Environmental Quality will test water from 12 locations in and near the Cape Fear River for GenX, an unregulated contaminant found in Wilmington’s drinking water.

The sampling sites include the Chemours outfall near Fayetteville, a well in Wrightsville Beach and water treatment plants in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties.

DEQ has posted a map as part of its new section devoted to the GenX investigation on the agency’s home page. Sampling results, which will be used to analyze drinking water safety, will also be posted here. A lab in Colorado and another at an EPA regional office in Research Triangle Park are testing the samples. Chemours, which manufactures Teflon-like materials that produce GenX, has agreed to pay for the analysis and sampling. Results could become available in a month.

Copies of the air quality, hazardous waste and wastewater discharge permits are also listed on the site. The wastewater permit expired on Oct. 31, but has been “administratively continued” until a new permit is issued. Chemours’s application for a renewed wastewater discharge permit is also listed on the DEQ site.

DEQ says it is also “pushing the EPA” for guidance on regulating GenX.

According to DEQ, the EPA is developing an updated health screening level for the chemical. State health department officials have said that the concentrations of GenX in Wilmington’s drinking water present a “low risk” — although the levels are derived from Chemours’s own computer modeling and not actual sampling. However DHHS is reviewing available health data and asking the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for guidance on GenX’s health risks.

 

Environment

Former Wilmington mayor: “We’re here to express our outrage” over GenX contamination in drinking water, Cape Fear

Children are at particular risk for chemical exposure through drinking water. Not only are their bodies smaller and the chemical burden on them greater, but they also drink more water. Wilmington pediatrician Dr. David Hill told the crowd, “If you can find a safer source of drinking water, do so.” (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

J ust steps outside the door of the Coastline Conference Center in Wilmington, the Cape Fear River moseys on its last 35 miles of its journey to the Atlantic Ocean. But the 300-plus people inside the conference center no longer trust the Cape Fear as their source of clean drinking water.

GenX, an unregulated contaminant, has been detected in both the river and drinking water. The chemical can’t be removed using traditional water treatment methods.

Cape Fear River Watch hosted a GenX Community Forum on Wednesday night, where, former Wilmington Mayor Harper Peterson said, “we can express our fear, concern, worries and outrage.”

These emotions have troubled many Wilmington residents since June 7, when the Star-News reported the findings of a team of scientists including NC State University professor Detlef Knappe. That study, published in 2016, showed GenX had been detected in drinking water, with its upstream source being Chemours. A spinoff of DuPont, Chemours discharges GenX into the Cape Fear via the factory’s effluent.

If the river suffers, we suffer Click To Tweet

Gen X in the family of PFOA chemicals (perfluoroctanoic acids), a byproduct of manufacturing Teflon. PFOAs are widespread in the environment; they’re even present in house dust. Despite their ubiquitousness, GenX is classified as an “emerging contaminant” by the EPA. Emerging contaminants have not been independently tested for safety or toxicity; nor are they regulated. Its effects on human health are unknown. GenX is biopersistent, meaning it remains in the body, in this case, for an estimated one to three years.

“‘We don’t know’ is a tremendously unacceptable answer,” said forum panelist John Green, a local attorney.

Chemours has not sampled its discharge and instead used modeling to estimate levels of GenX. Based on 2013-14 data provided by Chemours, the state Department of Health and Human Services has determined that levels of 70,000 parts per trillion in drinking water presents a “low risk.” Although a safe level has not been established, the international threshold is 90 ppt; the EPA has set a “health advisory” for combined levels of PFOAs above 70 ppt.

UNC Wilmington professor Larry Cahoon, a forum panelist, is a biological oceanographer who specializes in water quality analysis and remediation. He emphasized that Knappe’s study indicated GenX is only one of several PFOAs in the Cape Fear. “It’s a cocktail,” he said.

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Environment, Legislature

More bad environmental news in the budget: Clean Water Management Trust Fund takes an 18% hit

From which glass would you rather drink? The chronically underfunded Clean Water Management Trust Fund, charged with financing projects that protect water quality, received 18 percent less in state appropriations than last year. (Photo: Creative Commons)

At first glance the budget line item for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund looks generous by this legislature’s standards: $18 million. But the legislature’s largesse was not so large. The appropriation is down 18 percent from 2016, when lawmakers appropriated $22.4 million to the trust fund.  Gov. Roy Cooper included $25 million in his budget for the fund.

Either amount is minuscule compared to the fund’s $40 million appropriation in 2000, and the $100 million it was supposed to receive annually from 2004-05 through 2011-12. However, the fund never got the full amount. In fact, appropriations continued to decrease, at one point dipping as low as $6 million.

According to a coalition of conservation groups Land for Tomorrow, 135 local governments, conservation organizations, and state agencies requested nearly $68 million from the trust fund in 2017. These groups would provide almost $165 million in matching funds, more than doubling the state’s investment.

Established by lawmakers in 1996, the fund is charged with financing projects that enhance and protect water quality. These projects aren’t sexy: stormwater controls, riparian buffer restorations, stream bank stabilizations. But without them, drinking and surface waters would become more polluted, with all the attendant environmental, financial and public health costs.

Governed by a board of directors, the trust fund was under the NC Department of Environmental Quality until 2015. That’s when then-Gov. Pat McCrory exiled it and the Natural Heritage Trust Fund to the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Environmental advocates saw that shift as a way to minimize the importance of both projects.

The House is scheduled to hold its first vote on the budget today when it convenes at noon. The Senate is in recess until 4, but is expected to then vote again on the budget.