agriculture, Environment, Legislature

Neonic pesticides shorten bees’ lives in newly discovered way — with consequences for our drinking water

These public water systems have granular activated charcoal systems that can filter neonic pesticides from drinking water. (Map courtesy ToxicFree NC, using NC DEQ data)

A new study confirms that honeybees exposed to neonic pesticides, long implicated in their illness and death, send them to an early grave– putting the health of entire hive at risk.

Canadian researchers used “field realistic” exposure levels to study the bees’ health. Skeptics of neonics’ toxicity — the very companies that manufacture the chemicals — often complained that previous studies exposed bees’ to unusually high levels of the pesticide. The “field realistic” study, however, likewise showed neonics, as bees might encounter them in the wild, harm the insects’ health.

Even more surprising, though, is a finding which has implications for human health.

First, the bees in the Canadian study appear to have ingested neonics in a roundabout way: During irrigation or rain, neonic pesticides run off the corn and soybean fields in the water. Other plants in adjacent fields then take up that water as they grow, and honeybees ingest the pesticide via their pollen.

Healthy bee hive at American Tobacco Campus, Durham (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

This same mechanism likely means that neonics are entering the drinking water supply via fields runoff. Unfortunately, state environmental regulators don’t test for the pesticide in surface, ground or drinking water. Last year, the NC Department of Environmental Quality told the state pesticide board that because of a lack of funding and equipment, it does not monitor for neonics in waterways, including drinking water supplies.

Conventional methods used at water treatment plants don’t remove the neonics, according to a University of Iowa study. Granular activated charcoal systems do appear to remove the pesticide.

Preston Peck of Toxic Free NC, a nonprofit based in Raleigh, used DEQ data to create a map of public water supplies in the state that use granular activated charcoal systems. Some, but not all of North Carolina’s major cities have these systems: Raleigh, Greensboro, Durham, Charlotte and Fayetteville, for example. However Winston-Salem does not; nor do most of the smaller towns and cities.

Peck has repeatedly petitioned the state pesticide board to restrict the use of neonics to only licensed applicators. Despite a half dozen or more presentations from scientists over many months, the board failed to enact a rule to do so.

Peck took his concerns to the legislature. Earlier in the session, Democrat Reps. Pricey Harrison and Grier Martin, and Republican Reps. Chuck McGrady and Mitchell Setzer co-sponsored House Bill 363, which would have accomplished what the pesticide board failed to do. The bill stalled in the House Rules Committee.

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.

agriculture, Environment, Legislature

House reallocates $250K from rural grant program to “protect” rural areas from EPA

 

Many storefronts in downtown Ahoskie are vacant or dilapidated. Rural grant programs can help small towns rehab the buildings, revitalize the area and create jobs. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

Ahoskie, population 5,000, is nicknamed “The Only One,” because it is the only such named town in the world. Located in Hertford County, Ahoskie has seen better days, with its downtown revitalization occurring in very small steps: A coffee shop here, a theater there — and crumbling buildings in between.

Rep. Chris Millis sponsored an amendment to the House budget that would siphon $250,000 from a grant program to revive rural areas like Ahoskie and then funnel it to the Department of Agriculture in order to sue the EPA.

The Agriculture Department could use the money to hire outside counsel to fight the federal Waters of the United States rule, which clarifies the types of waterways that are regulated under the Clean Water Act. These include streams and wetlands that contribute to “navigable waters” already under CWA jurisdiction.

A Republican, Millis represents Onslow and Pender counties, both strongholds for industrialized hog and poultry farms. Those farms could be subject to stricter environmental regulations if their runoff reaches waterways regulated under WOTUS.

“We have to protect rural North Carolina,” Millis said in defense of his amendment. “It’s a federal land grab.”

Downtown Ahoskie (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

But the rural grants program, housed within the state Commerce Department, provides building renovation and economic infrastructure grants for job creation. Local governments in Tier 1 and 2 counties, among the state’s most economically distressed, can apply for money to renovate or demolish buildings or to upgrade their infrastructure. Millis did have other ideas for vacant, dilapidated buildings. In an earlier House ag appropriations meeting, he suggested amending the budget to fund “urban warfare” training for law enforcement, using these structures. The amendment failed.

While some buildings can’t be salvaged — and are eligible for demolition grants — others have value in their new lives. earlier this year, the town of Newton, population 13,000, received a $70,000 grant to renovate a vacant building into an Urgent Care center. The closest similar facility is a 15-minute drive away, according to the town website.

The House budget had appropriated $3.7 million for the rural grant program, plus another $2 million or so in transfers from an industrial fund.

Many conservatives and rural residents oppose WOTUS, including Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.

However, the agriculture department didn’t request the money, said Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat from Guilford County. And besides, she noted, in February the Trump administration indicated it would roll back the rule. It’s also likely to get hung up in the courts.

For these reasons, Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Republican from Henderson County, called the appropriation to the department “not a wise use of taxpayer money.”

“We don’t know what Trump’s going to do,” replied Rep. Pat McElrath, a Republican representing Carteret and Jones counties. “We’re erring on the side of caution.”

The House Agriculture/Natural Resources Committee didn’t include the appropriation in its part of the budget. The Senate version transfers more money — $1 million — from the NC Department of Environmental Quality, apparently as payback for the agency withdrawing from the lawsuit, filed by the previous administration.

agriculture, Environment

What’s that smell? The Farm Act of 2017.

This is a farm. To keep wedding venues from posing as farms, Senate lawmakers had to define the term in the Farm Act.

W hile the House dashed through its version of the state budget at the speed of light, for the past two days the Senate Agriculture/Natural Resources Committee plodded through other Very Important Business: the finer points of the farm act, the criminal element that is rumored to loiter near stream buffers, a hinky provision concerning coastal development, and what has become a crowd favorite — leachate aerosolization.

First, SB 615, the farm act.

Veterans of the legislature rightfully become concerned when a lawmaker says “All this section does is x.” Or, as Sen. Brent Jackson, a Sampson County Republican, quipped: “This is one of the shortest ones I’ve run in the last few years and the least controversial. We’ll see here in a moment.”

The 16-page bill (that started as four) would temporarily exempt from odor rules those farms that store poultry manure to be used for renewable energy. The Environmental Management Commission would have to craft an amendment to the existing odor rule governing waste-to-energy storage. These changes must go through public comment so the rule could take several months, if not a year to enact.

“All this does is allow a farmer to buy poultry litter from multiple sources to burn as renewable energy,” Jackson said. Otherwise the facility would fall under an industrial class and be subject to odor rules. “If there’s just one source, you may not have enough to keep the system running.”

The premise sounds reasonable, except the so-called hog nuisance bill just became law, and the language is vague enough that poultry operations could be included in it. Under that statute, citizens are limited in the amount of compensatory damages they can be awarded for agricultural inconveniences like bacteria from fecal matter on their homes or acrid odors in their living rooms.

“Let’s say I’m a citizen who wants to complain about odor, can I get an injunction?” asked Sen. Angela Bryant, a Democrat from northeastern North Carolina.

The answer is yes. Citizens can file an objection with the NC Department of Environmental Quality. They can sue and/or ask a judge for an injunction. But lawsuits require money and time. And odor exemptions could be abused.

The other reasonable-on-its-face-questionable-in-real-life section would strip counties of their authority to adopt zoning regulations governing all types of farms. If a farm is “bona fide” — that is, generates at least 75 percent of its gross sales from farming activities and qualifies for a conservation agreement — then it is exempt from local zoning regulations.

Jackson said the 2007 permanent moratorium on the construction of new hog farms removes the need for county ordinances governing them.

We’re trying to clean up our boots,” Jackson said.

Existing farms are grandfathered under the moratorium, although they can’t expand. Farms with advanced waste systems can be built, but none have been, so far. But if such a modern farm were to be constructed, a county could not use its zoning power to restrict its location.

And finally, it might seem silly that lawmakers have to define the term “farm,” but indeed they do. Many rural Orange County residents oppose the Barn of Chapel Hill, aka “the Party Barn,” which hosts weddings, because of concerns over noise, bright lights and drunken driving.

The Barn is on 22 bucolic acres near White Cross. But two beehives and a smattering of flowers do not a farm make. There must be official government paperwork. There must be evidence that you’re legit. Only then can there be noise, bright lights and drunken driving.

The bill passed the Senate Ag committee. It now heads to Finance and Judiciary.

Next: HB 56 and HB 576, environmental laws and the leachate bill.

agriculture, Environment, Trump Administration

Sad! Leaked Trump budget shows huge cuts to coastal protection, farm programs and renewable energy

Republican Lieutenant Gov. Dan Forest, in a speech to Duplin County farmers last fall, proclaimed that “Donald Trump knows agriculture.”

That statement seemed to puzzle even the conservative crowd, considering Trump is from New York City and likely wouldn’t know a hay baler from a manure spreader.

The president’s proposed budget, due out tomorrow but leaked in advance, not only cuts EPA staff and services, but also zeroes out several line items, including many of particular relevance to North Carolina, according to the document, released by the Third Way, a centrist think tank, and verified by various federal officials.

Funding would be eliminated for watershed and flood prevention operations and the agricultural disaster relief fund, key to hurricane recovery in North Carolina.

Also gone: the Grassroots Source Water Protection Program, which prevents pollution of surface- and groundwater that can contaminate rural residents’ drinking water wells. And the Emergency Conservation Program, which assists farmers and ranchers repair their land after natural disasters — vanished.

Energy efficiency and environmental protection fare even worse. The Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would receive $636 million — down by 70 percent from $2.1 billion currently appropriated. In 2011, the EERE office funded nine Wind for Schools projects in North Carolina.

In addition to EPA staffing cuts, the Greenhouse Gas Reporting program would be reduced from $8 million to zero, according to analysis by Inside Climate News. Under this program, industrial facilities report their greenhouse gas emissions. In North Carolina, 138 emitters report to the database. From 2011 to 2015, the amount of greenhouse gases in the state fell from 71.5 million metric tons to 62.9 — 13 percent.

The $27 million National Estuary Program, which protects coastal waterways is also gone, as is the $7 million for environmental justice. The absence of that program could stall North Carolina residents’ Title VI complaint against NC DEQ over its roles in alleged intimidation by the hog industry.

The EPA’s Indoor Radon Program is eliminated. This is important for the North Carolina because of the prevalence of the naturally occurring — but cancer-causing — gas in areas of the state. Eight counties in western NC have a high potential for elevated indoor radon levels; another 31 in the foothills have moderate potential. Exposure to radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the US.

Funding for the EPA’s lead risk reduction program is zeroed out under Trump. Exposure to lead can cause permanent developmental disabilities  State health department figures from 2014 show that more than 1,600 children ages 1 and 2 had elevated lead levels in their blood. That’s equivalent to a state average of 1.3 percent of the 122,481 toddlers tested.

More than half the counties had rates higher than the state average; McDowell and Chowan counties, 4.7 and 4.8 percent of toddlers tested high.

As for adults, 12.3 percent of 5,329 people 16 and older had elevated blood levels, according to the state health department.

The budget is expected to be officially released Tuesday, while Trump is on his overseas trip.