Environment, public health

Here’s something else to worry about: more mosquito days

It’s not your imagination. Mosquitoes are worse than they used to be.

In central North Carolina, mosquito season is nearly two weeks longer now than it was 35 years ago, according to a Climate Central report.

In Asheville, there are 18 more mosquito days; Greensboro has an additional 16.Climate conditions in Greenville add 12 days to the season, and an extra week in Charlotte. In Wilmington, where it is already warm and humid, there are just three more mosquito days per year, for a total of 214.

Almost half the year is now suitable for mosquitos to thrive in western North Carolina, and 59%  along the coast.

The number of mosquito days was calculated based on studies from the National Institutes of Health, which found mosquitoes survive best at temperatures between 50-95 degrees and a relative humidity of at least 42%.

According to Climate Central, these conditions are increasing in nearly two-thirds of the 239 sites analyzed in the contiguous US, from the 1980s to the 2010s.

Mosquitos aren’t merely an annoyance. They can carry diseases, such as Zika, malaria, Chikungunya virus, dengue and West Nile.

West Nile virus, in particular, is projected to spread with climate change, as temperatures increase and warm seasons lengthen.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the rate of disease in humans as a result of mosquito, tick and flea bites tripled in the US from 2004 to 2016. Researchers have identified nine new germs carried by mosquitoes in the last 15 years.

Environment

In 7-page letter, DEQ wants more answers about Wake Stone’s plan to mine next to Umstead State Park

Wake Stone has proposed building a controversial mine on the 105-acre Odd Fellows Tract next to Umstead State Park. (Map: Umstead Coalition)

The proposed Wake Stone mine in Raleigh has encountered another setback as state environmental regulators have returned the company’s application because it lacked key information.

In a seven-page letter dated July 23, the NC Department of Environmental Quality asked for key data:

  • the amount of air and noise pollution from blasting;
  • the potential for light pollution because of nighttime work;
  • the effects of a proposed bridge over Crabtree Creek on water quality, wildlife and endangered species;
  • how the overburden — or unusable material — will be disposed of;
  • and multiple design specifications for the pit that were not in the permit application.

As important, though, are questions of whether the RDU Airport Authority, which is leasing the 105 acres to Wake Stone, can legally do so. The cities of Raleigh and Durham, and Wake and Durham counties hold the deed to the land, but tax maps show that the Airport Authority owns it.

Opponents of the project have consistently argued that the Airport Authority hasn’t the legal right to lease the land.

DEQ also requested information about whether the project is receiving any public money “or other assistance,” and if more than 10 acres of public land is within proposed mine.

The property is known as the “Odd Fellows tract,” and lies adjacent to Umstead State Park, as well as two homes along Old Reedy Creek Road.  Wake Stone proposes to timber the land and then on at least 45 acres, blast a pit 40 stories deep to extract the minerals, crush them and sell the material for road-building and other uses. The mining could continue for at least 25 years.

Hundreds of people have commented on the proposal, most of them in opposition. In June the turnout for a virtual public hearing was so high that DEQ opted to hold a second one.

The proposed fence perimeter that DEQ rejected this week (Map: RDU)

Earlier this week DEQ rejected the Airport Authority’s request to build an 8-foot fence around its property, which cuts through Umstead State Park, ostensibly to prevent trespassing. State environmental officials said the fence would violate riparian buffer rules. The state Division of Parks also opposed the fence, calling it a “permanent eyesore.” Officials said it would not only diminish park visitors’ experience but also block crucial wildlife corridors.

Environment

Sediment from PFAS-contaminated Chemours site heading down the Cape Fear River

An “apparent increase” in dirt and sediment potentially contaminated with perfluorinated compounds — PFAS — is headed from the Chemours plant down the Cape Fear River.

In an email sent at 7:32 p.m. yesterday, Christel Compton, Chemours Fayetteville Works environmental manager notified the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority of the sediment release.

The sediment spilled into the River occurred while contractors were building a system to capture and treat contamination at the Old Outfall 2, Compton wrote. Old Outfall 2 is a highly contaminated area of the Chemours site. Until 2012, the company discharged process wastewater containing high levels of PFAS, including GenX, from the plant into the Cape Fear River. Studies conducted at the site indicate that groundwater is contaminated with several types of PFAS.

The treatment system is required under a Consent Order between the NC Department of Environmental Quality, Chemours and Cape Fear River Watch.

“We have ceased, pending further review, the specific construction activity that took place over the last day that we believe may have contributed to this increase,” Compton wrote in the email, as quoted by CFPUA. ” We do not know at this time whether any increase in sediments will also result in a short-term increase in PFAS levels downstream.”

Chemours said it is sampling the material and would notify the utility of the results.

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority announced it has begun more-frequent sampling of raw water from the river as a result of the sediment release. The CFPUA has also asked the NC Department of Environmental Quality for guidance.

This is the second time the construction site has potentially spread contamination off Chemours property.

Policy Watch reported last month that Chemours had hauled nearly 40 dump trucks’ worth of dirt, tree stumps and roots from the Old Outfall 002 area  to an unlined construction and debris landfill.

DEQ cited Chemours with a Notice of Violation, and could fine the company.

Environment, News

U.S. House passes bipartisan public lands bill; next stop president’s desk

agriculture, Environment

1,000+ dead fish: DEQ releases more troubling details on hog lagoon spill

Three million gallons of hog feces and urine killed more than 1,000 fish in Wagner Ditch/Plainveiw Pond, a half-mile from B&L Farms. Waste were also found in wetlands near Starlins Swamp, 1.35 miles away.

The breach of a hog lagoon that spilled 3 million gallons of feces and urine into streams, ponds and wetlands in the Cape Fear River Basin killed at least 1,000 fish — and occurred because of neglect and mismanagement.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality released more details yesterday about a June 12 spill at B&L Farms, north of Spivey’s Corner in Sampson County. Investigators found that Bryan McLamb, who raises hogs form Smithfield Foods, had allowed the level of waste to reach the top of the lagoon berm “for a prolonged period of time.”

According to their environmental permits, all farms must keep waste at certain levels below the top of the berm to prevent it from overflowing, especially when it rains. To accomplish this, farms pump the lagoon through spray the waste on their fields.

The day before the breach, it had rained 2 inches at the farm.

But McLamb chronically failed to manage the lagoon, investigators found. The waste levels had been so high and for such a long time that the earthen lagoon berm was saturated and “notably soft” when walked on. Vegetation along the crest of the berm had died because it had been inundated by the feces and urine.

And after the previous rain, McLamb did not inspect the lagoon to ensure it was intact and not overflowing. The lagoon marker had also been installed incorrectly, so the measurements were inaccurate.

As a result, on the morning of June 12, a Smithfield crew that had arrived at the farm to remove some pigs for slaughter, discovered the breach. But there were further delays in notifying the state. The crew relayed information first to Smithfield; at 9:40 a.m. Smithfield then called McLamb, who went to the farm to confirm the breach. McLamb then called the farm’s technical specialist, Curtis Barwick, who called DEQ shortly after 11.

By the time DEQ investigators arrived at the farm at 12:40 p.m. 3 million gallons of feces and urine had “coursed overland into wetlands, and surface waters, including Starlins Swamp, 1.35 miles from the lagoon. Investigators also documented waste and dead fish in the Wagner Pond about a half-mile from the lagoon, where there were “a minimum of one thousand dead fish including brim, catfish, bass, an eel, and other panfish.” Hog feces “were also documented in wetlands.”

Policy Watch reported earlier this week that subsequent testing by DEQ showed extremely high levels of fecal coliform bacteria — at least 3,000 times higher than water quality standards — in waters downstream.

In addition to neglecting the lagoon, McLamb had also failed to keep proper records of lagoon levels and spraying. Nor did he ever notify DEQ that his lagoon was too full, as required, even though McLamb said it had been for several months.

DEQ cited McClamb for multiple violations. He has 20 days to submit additional information and a written response. Afterward, DEQ will determine the fine.