Environment

EPA grossly underestimated “safe” levels of fluorinated compounds in drinking water

The chemical structure of PFOA, a persistent fluorinated compound that can cause chronic health problems, including liver and kidney disease.

The Environmental Protection Agency was far too lenient when it set a provisional health goal of 70 parts per trillion for fluorinated compounds such as PFOS and PFOA in drinking water. That’s the conclusion of an 842-page report — which the EPA had tried to suppress — published June 21 by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

In fact, based on results from previous human and animal studies, the ATSDR recommended minimum risk levels that are far more stringent: Just 7 ppt for PFOS and 11 ppt for PFOA. The document is open for public comment through July 23.

The ATSDR is not under the EPA, but the Department of Health and Human Service’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

PFOA and PFOS, which linger in the human body for years, can cause various health problems, depending on the level and duration of the exposure: These include thyroid disorders, depressed immune response to vaccines, liver and kidney disease, elevated cholesterol and possibly cancer.

Both PFOS and PFOA, as well as other similar compounds, have been detected in the Cape Fear River, the Haw River, Lake Michie in Durham, and Jordan Lake. They’ve also been found in the drinking water in Cary and Wilmington, as well as private well water near the Chemours plant.

According to data from the Town of Cary published last December, finished tap water contained levels of PFOS  at 4 ppt and PFOA at 9.6 ppt, below the ATSDR’s recommended minimum risk level for drinking water. Finished water at the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority’s Sweeney plant contained 40 ppts of the compounds, based on results from March 2018 sampling.

Raw water from Lake Michie and the Little River tested at 2.4 ppt to 7 ppt for the compounds, although after being treated by the Durham water utility’s Brown plant, the levels decreased to 2.7 to 4.8 ppt.

The ATSDR report mentioned that bluegill caught from the Haw River (it didn’t specify which part) had levels of PFOS in tissue at 29.8 ppt.

A provisional health goal is not legally enforceable, but many states, including North Carolina, use it as guidance. As more science has become available and public concern has grown, some states, including New Jersey, have implemented more rigorous standards for these compounds. However, North Carolina law prohibits state regulators from enacting stronger standards than the federal government’s.

Cobey Culton, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said the agency’s staff is reviewing the report, but “has not recommended any additional steps or actions at this time based on the draft.”

GenX, which is among the toxic culprits emanating from the Chemours plant in Fayetteville, was not included in the  ATSDR report. The state has set a provision health goal of 140 ppt in drinking water for GenX.

PFOA and PFOS were manufactured by DuPont and 3M from the 1950s until 2015, when a phase-out began in earnest. They have used to make carpet, microwave popcorn bags, fast food wrappers, dental floss, fire-fighting foam, water repellent clothing and Teflon cookware. As a result, people can ingest the chemicals via food, water, even household dust.

Although they’ve been phased out in the US, these chemicals persist in the environment and travel widely on wind currents. They have been found as far away as the Arctic. (While many developed countries are reducing or eliminating the manufacture of these compounds, China has increased its production.)

As manufacturing facilities have released the compounds into the environment, through wastewater discharge, groundwater, or air emissions, they have been found nearly worldwide, including in polar bears in the Arctic. The compounds can also run off, for example from firefighting training areas where foam containing the chemicals is used. The compounds have been detected at military bases, including the Marine Corps’ Atlantic Outlying Field in Carteret County.

Environment, public health

BREAKING: DHHS investigating suspected cancer cluster near Lake Norman

Zip Code 28117, one of two areas that have reported statistically higher than average incidences of thyroid cancer.

This is a developing story. Policy Watch will run a full story, including interviews with scientists and community residents tomorrow.

Two areas near Lake Norman have reported statistically higher than expected incidences of thyroid cancer, according to a May 29 letter obtained Tuesday by Policy Watch from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Most of the cases occurred in two Zip Codes: 28115 and 28117.  The state undertook the analysis because of community reports of thyroid cancer, including several cases involving teenage girls.

Thyroid cancer is unusual in young people. It more commonly affects women in their 40s and 50s.

In preparing the assessment, the state’s Central Cancer Registry and the Division of Public Health concluded that from 1995 to 2016 the observed number of thyroid cancer cases in the 28115 Zip Code was two times the expected number.

In the 28117 Zip Code, the observed number was more than double over the same time period, and three times higher from 2012 to 2016.

Overall, Iredell County reported statistically higher rates of thyroid cancer: 1.5 times from 1995 to 2016, and more recently, 1.7 times from 2012 to 2016.

Zip Code 28115

“This investigation cannot be used to determine the cause of the observed cancers or identify possible associations with any risk factors,” the letter read. “It is important to note that the data and statistical analysis conducted at this step cannot determine if cancers observed in the community are associated with specific environmental, lifestyle, or other risk factors.”

Genetics and/or environmental exposure can increase a person’s risk for thyroid cancer. Exposure to radiation, flame retardants and perfluorinated compounds, such as GenX and PFOAs, can also enhance the risk. These compounds have been found in the Cape Fear River, a result of discharges and emissions from the Chemours plant near Fayetteville.

However, they also been detected at low levels in Lake Michie, in northern Durham County; since no industry discharges into the lake, Durham water officials believe the compounds are entering the water from the air.

Duke Energy built Lake Norman in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The utility’s McGuire nuclear power plant sits on the southern end of the lake; the Marshall Steam Station, a coal-fired power plant is also located on the lake, directly west of Mooresville.

The Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch will review the data and determine the next steps, which will include reviewing the literature for environmental exposures associated with thyroid cancer risk, a DHHS spokeswoman told Policy Watch. “These steps will be completed with input from the community and others who have been involved in bringing attention to this issue. Information gathered will help inform whether a study can be done to look for a common exposure or risk factor among thyroid cancer cases in this area of North Carolina.”

SIR stands for Standardized Incident Ratio; CI is short for Confidence Interval. Source: DHHS

 

Thyroid Cancer Letter by Lisa Sorg on Scribd

Environment

Preliminary fish tissue, lake results show presence of GenX, other fluorinated compounds

Jimmy Dew and his family own the 14-acre Marshwood Lake, just northeast of the Chemours plant. He spoke earlier this year at a public information session in Bladen County. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

Surface water, sediment and three species of fish from a private lake near the Chemours plant tested positive for several perfluorinated compounds, state environmental officials told the Science Advisory Board today.

Marshwood Lake, which is owned by the Dew family, lies seven-tenths of a mile northeast of the Chemours plant near the Bladen-Cumberland county line.

NC Department of Environmental Quality took the samples in March and April, targeting 33 known perfluorinated compounds, including GenX. Only one of three fish species sampled tested positive for GenX.

  • Redear sunfish, .00027 parts per million (270 parts per trillion) for GenX and an estimated concentration of .00049 ppm (49 parts per trillion) of PFOS, which has been phased out.
  • Two largemouth bass did not contain detectable amounts of GenX, but they did have five other perfluorinated compounds, including PFOS.
  • One blue catfish sample tested positive for four compounds, of the longer-carbon chain variety. Scientists theorize that compounds with more carbon molecules — longer carbon chains — could be more harmful than their shorter-chain counterparts. However, more research is needed, including studies on the cumulative effects of many compounds on human health.

Because the results are preliminary and the sample size small, the data cannot be used to issue a fish consumption advisory, said Sandy Mort, DEQ environmental toxicologist. Sampling in the fall could show different results because the fish will have had time to grow.

The state also released other sampling results for GenX:

  • Sediment, 1,800 parts per trillion;
  • Lake water samples, 968 ppt;
  • A natural spring that feeds the lake, 1,160 ppt.

Both water sources contained 16 different perfluorinated compounds, including a Nafion byproduct and so-called legacy compounds, such as PFOS and PFOA, which have been phased out.

The source of the contamination is likely air emissions and groundwater discharges from the Chemours plant. The compounds are leaving the stacks at the facility and, when they mix with water, can transform into GenX. In turn, GenX contaminates the soil, groundwater and surface water.GenX also leaches from soil and volatilizes — becomes vapor — from water.

The EPA is analyzing studies on rats and mice conducted by Chemours and is expected to issue health goals for GenX by late summer. Early analyses show that chronic exposure to GenX and fluorinated compounds can harm the kidneys and liver, and suppress the immune system, They can also cause developmental and reproductive problems, as well as decrease red blood cell counts.

 

 

agriculture, Courts & the Law, Environment

BREAKING: Federal hog nuisance trial halted

[This is a developing story. It will be updated as information becomes available.]

Update: The trial has resumed with all 12 jurors

The federal hog nuisance trial against Murphy-Brown and Smithfield Foods has been stopped, at least temporarily, because a juror allegedly brought in printed material about the N.C. Farm Act debate.

According to a source with knowledge of the inner workings of the trial, the juror may have also passed the material on to other jurors.

The trial is on hold until US District Court Judge Earl Britt decides whether to dismiss the juror or jurors involved— or to declare a mistrial.

The trial could proceed with as few as six jurors. During the first trial, two jurors were dismissed for personal reasons, such as illness.

Murphy-Brown lost the first trial, which prompted Sen. Brent Jackson to sponsor SB 711, the N.C. Farm Act. The bill would all but erase the rights of neighbors of industrialized hog farms to sue for nuisance.

Environment

Landowners along potential MVP Southgate path fighting unwanted land agents still waiting for attorney general to intervene

Darrell Dinkler, land agent with Doyle Land Services (Photo: courtesy Daniel Bollinger)

Intimidating phone calls. Hard-sell tactics. Alleged trespassing.

Since April, when the owners of the Mountain Valley Pipeline several property owners in Rockingham and Alamance counties have publicly shared stories of being harassed and verbally bullied by land agents for the MVP Southgate natural gas project.

Yet so far, the state attorney general’s office has not responded to citizen complaints by reining in the contractors’ conduct.

Laura Brewer, spokeswoman for the Department of Justice has not returned phone or email messages that Policy Watch left for her yesterday seeking comment.

The project would extend the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline, entering North Carolina just east of Eden in Rockingham County and extending southeast, ending near Graham in Alamance County. Land agents and surveyors have since swarmed the area.

“[The agent] left a note on my gate,” said one woman who attended a meeting sponsored by the Haw River Assembly in Alamance County last month. “A week or so, another note.” The land agent, who wanted to speak to her about a survey, “got really pushy,” the woman said. The agent then spoke with her husband, saying “Wouldn’t you love to have a natural gas line in your state?”

“My husband told the land agent no,” the woman said. “And she hung up.”

In April, Daniel and Kelly Bollinger, who live near Green Level, told Policy Watch that Doyle Land Services agent Darrell Dinkler had tried to mislead them about the pipeline and had also persistently called them, even at night, about accessing their land. The Bollingers denied the company any access to their 53-acre farm.

Last week, Bollinger took photos of Dinkler, who was accompanying survey crews another resident’s private property. Bollinger said he was present when an Alamance County Sheriff’s Deputy ordered Dinkler and the crew to leave and remove all equipment because they didn’t have permission to be there.

An Alamance County Sheriff spokesman Sgt. Mark Dockery said he had no incident reports of trespassing calls involving the pipeline crews. However, he said it is possible that deputies had been called to a location but didn’t take a report.

Shawn Day, spokesperson for the MVP Southgate acknowledged that Dinkler accompanied the survey crew TRC Solutions to “serve as a point of contact for landowners.”

“When TRC’s survey crew was asked to leave, the Doyle representative assisted them in packing up their equipment to expedite their departure from the premises,” Day wrote in an email.

Doyle Land Services can’t legally survey in North Carolina because the firm is not licensed here. However, the firm can operate as land agents. The NC Department of Environmental Quality maintains a “Registry of Landmen” for land agents seeking access to private property for fracking and other mineral rights. However, state law does not require land agents working on pipeline projects to register — even though the statute specifically mentions the word “pipelines.”