Environment

PFAS, but not GenX, found in blood of residents living near Chemours plant

Jimmy Dew’s family owns Marshwood Lake, just northeast of the Chemours plant. He spoke earlier this year at a public information session in Bladen County. His family’s well has been contaminated with fluorinated compounds. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

Four types of fluorinated compounds were detected in blood samples of all 30 people tested who live near the Chemours plant, although none of the compounds was GenX, the NC Department of Health and Human Services announced today.

In July, DHHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Cumberland County Health Department tested for 17 types of fluorinated compounds in the blood and urine of 30 people living near the facility, which abuts the Bladen-Cumberland county line.

All of the people who voluntarily participated in the program use well water for their household needs. Many of the private wells, plus rainwater, lakes, soil, groundwater and even honey have tested positive for fluorinated compounds.

All study participants had some level of PFHxS in their blood. It is often found in carpet and firefighting foam.  

Also detected in all blood samples, the compounds n-PFOA, n-PFOS, and Sm-PFOS are variations of C8. It is used to make non-stick coatings, including Teflon, and can be found in fast food wrappers, pizza boxes, and microwave popcorn bags.

Although manufacturers like DuPont have phased out their use of C8 — replacing it with GenX — the compound persists for years in the human body and the environment. C8 is classified as “likely carcinogenic,” which means they can cause cancer. However, not everyone who is exposed to these compounds develops cancer. The compounds can also cause low birth weight, high cholesterol, a depressed immune system, reproductive and developmental problems, and thyroid and hormonal disorders.

C8 is the compound that triggered the class-action lawsuit by residents who drank well water contaminated by discharge from the DuPont plant in Parkersburg, WV. DuPont paid $670 million to settle the litigation.

The median detection levels of PFHxS and n-PFOS in the 30 North Carolina residents were higher than that of the US population. Median is the midpoint between the lowest and highest readings.

The highest level of PFHxS in blood among study participants was 6.7 parts per billion. By comparison, 95 percent the US population tested has levels of 5.6 ppb or below, according to 2013-14 data from the CDC.

Similarly, the highest level of n-PFOS among the study participants was 34.6 parts per billion. In the general US population, it was 14 ppb. People who drank from wells near the Parkersburg, WV, plant had median levels of 38 ppb.

Other findings included:

  • Nine of 17 fluorinated compounds were found in the blood of at least one of the participants. The other eight were not detected at all.
  • Only one fluorinated compound was found in urine, and that was at the lowest detectable level.

The sample size was small because the CDC could not test more people. Each household could have a limit of one adult and one child from 12 to 17 years old. No infants, toddlers or young children were tested.

The Environmental Protection Agency was expected to release its guidance on groundwater cleanup of fluorinated compounds, as well as human health toxicity values and a PFAS management plan as soon as last month. An EPA spokesperson told Policy Watch that the agency “continues to work toward releasing the toxicity values in the coming weeks, the groundwater cleanup values and management plan this year.”

 
Environment, News

Lawmakers expected to approve nearly $800 million in hurricane relief

House Speaker Tim Moore (L) and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R)

North Carolina state lawmakers are expected to speedily approve almost $800 million in hurricane relief this week, legislators announced over the weekend.

The news follows Gov. Roy Cooper’s call last week for the state to open up its pocketbook and spend from its $2 billion “rainy-day fund” after Hurricane Florence battered the state last month.

From WRAL’s report Monday morning:

When lawmakers gather Monday afternoon, they plan to approve nearly $800 million in Hurricane Florence relief funding, legislative leaders said over the weekend.

Gov. Roy Cooper had asked for $1.5 billion in state funding for the storm recovery, with $750 million of that upfront and approved during this week’s special legislative session.

Lawmakers noted that the administration’s needs estimates were preliminary, based largely on computer modeling of the storm damage as opposed to in-person analysis. Leadership said in a news release that they want to keep “maximum flexibility” as more information comes in, and that their initial appropriation would total $794 million.

“Some assessed needs may shift considerably over time as federal aid becomes clearer and damage assessments continue,” Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said in a joint statement. “Education needs, for example, are particularly preliminary.”

Leadership did not release a breakdown of how the money would be spent. More details should be available when the House and Senate appropriations committees go into joint session at 4 p.m.

The initial recovery package may be completely approved by Monday night. Most of the funding will come from the state’s $2 billion “rainy day” reserve fund and will not require a tax increase.

Billions more will likely flow from the federal government and from private insurance claims tied to the storm and the subsequent flooding, which was historic in much of southeastern North Carolina. Private groups are working to help repair homes as well. Many people, though, will likely never be made whole.

House Appropriations Chairman Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, said in the weekend release that school repairs will be the top priority in the state’s package, along with cleanup, road and local infrastructure repairs and fully funding the state’s match for federal recovery dollars.

Lawmakers already approved $56 million in Florence recovery aid two weeks ago. That money was earmarked to pay teachers and other school staff whose schools were closed for an extended period and to provide initial matching funds for federal aid.

It remains to be seen how the dollars will be spent.

Cooper’s proposal considered not only the damage to homes and small businesses, but also pledged cash to reeling farmers, relocating homes in the state’s floodplains, and expanding a buyout program in order to move hog farm pits, one of multiple looming environmental concerns exacerbated by storm flooding.

There’s been no word that legislators intend to take up more divisive matters. Lawmakers were roundly criticized for their jabs at then-incoming Gov. Cooper in December 2016 as they convened to fund relief for Hurricane Matthew.

Look for updates from Policy Watch as lawmakers gather.

Environment

This Week in Pollution: Have you read ‘The Road’? 20-year climate change estimates suggest you should.

Holiday reading for your favorite nihilist

 

“Perhaps in the world’s destruction it would be possible at last to see how it was made.” — The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

Because holidays are supposed to be a joyous time spent with friends and family, I instead read The Road over Christmas in 2006. Between stringing lights and hanging cat stockings, I delved into a future ridden with cannibals and consumption, extinction and the apocalypse.

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but I thought of that book this week when, in addition to Hurricane Michael, its intensity as a near-Category 5  linked to climate change, the international science panel announced that by 2040 parts of the our warming planet (the only one we have, by the way) will likely be uninhabitable.

If fossil fuel emissions continue on their current trajectory, increased wildfires, droughts and floods will cause some species — such as the mass die-offs of coral reefs — to go extinct. Environmental refugees, displacement and poverty from climate change will irreversibly alter where and how we live.

This dystopic scenario, just 22 years away, can be blunted if countries rein in their carbon dioxide and methane emissions. But don’t count on America to be among those trying to preserve a livable future. The Trump administration is relaxing regulations on coal-fired power plants and vehicle emissions, both major sources of carbon dioxide.

Lost among all the hurricane coverage was the troubling development that the US Senate this week confirmed Jeffrey Bossert Clark, an attorney for BP Oil who has disputed the science of climate change, as the nation’s top environmental lawyer, according to Inside Climate News.

It could be worse. Jim Womack could be the nation’s top environmental lawyer. Instead, Womack, the chairman of the state’s Oil and Gas Commission, still wants the nine-member board to take that very, very expensive taxpayer-funded field trip to Pennsylvania to observe fracking operations. Because what could be more rewarding than scoring a front-row seat to climate change: watching fossil fuels be sucked from beneath the earth while leaking methane into the atmosphere? The commission meets Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — four hours you’ll never get back — in the Ground Floor Hearing Room of the Archdale Building, on the north end of Halifax Mall.

Well, this is just offal: A rendering plant in Bertie County and the Smithfield hog slaughter plant in Bladen County made two national Top 10 list of processors discharging the most nitrogen into nearby waterways. Too much nitrogen in water contributes to algae growth, which can strain water treatment plants, kill fish and in some cases, be toxic.

Valley Proteins “processes” — grinds up, drains and heats — fat, bone and animal hides, which can be used to make bone meal or pet food. But converting the innards and skin releases wastewater containing nitrogen, an average of 1,429 pounds a day, into the Roanoke River.

As for the Smithfield, whose ginormous plant in Tar Heel is the largest such facility in the world, it discharges more than 1,700 pounds per day.

Both facilities have federal and state discharge permits.

Based in Washington, D.C., the Environmental Integrity Project analyzed federal and state data for plants throughout the US to find Clean Water Act violations and other illegal discharges. It is recommending that state and federal governments more closely regulate the slaughterhouse industry, stepping up enforcement, strengthening outdated EPA standards for water pollution, and tightening state pollution control permits to reduce discharges

What sucks more than sucking pests? The pesticides used to kill the sucking pests. Bayer CropScience, headquartered in RTP, wants to spray the pesticide flupyradifurone on North Carolina’s tobacco crop, even though the compound is known to hurt bees and freshwater mussels. The Center for Biological Diversity has asked the EPA to deny the request.

Flupyradifurone is supposed to be an alternative neonicotinoids, which have been linked to bee die-offs. Meanwhile, the aphids and other insects have grown resistant to the pesticide’s effects.

However, flupyradifurone is chemically similar to neonics, and it is acutely toxic to bees that ingest it.

Endangered freshwater mussel species that could be imperiled from the pesticide include the dwarf wedgemussel, which is found in Swift Creek. That mussel and its habitat are already under siege from urban runoff, and they face further jeopardy from the Complete 540 toll road proposed for southern Wake County. Federal wildlife officials have approved an environmental impact statement for the  multi-billion project, even though the mussels could be virtually wiped out in the wild.

“Suppose you were the last one left? Suppose you did that to yourself?” — The Road

 

 

 

Environment

Federal government seeking public comment on listing two bird and one mussel species in NC as threatened

Black-Capped Petrel (Photo taken by Tom Benson, Aug. 25, 2017, in Dare County.)

When the Black-Capped Petrel flies over the sea at night, the wind passes over its wings, creating a sound that those fortunate enough to hear it describe as “flute-like.” Its nighttime calls have been characterized as eerie, like that of a cat hooting. Although the rare bird, with its white rump and collar, and of course, black cap, nests in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, its range includes the North Carolina coast.

Now the US Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list the Black-Capped Petrel as threatened, along with the Eastern Blackrail and the Atlantic Pigtoe, whose native habitats include portions of North Carolina. The agency is accepting public comment on the plan through Dec. 10.

A threatened designation means the species is likely to become endangered within the “foreseeable future” — 50 years — throughout all or a significant portion of its range, according to the agency.By designating the species as threatened, USFWS can then extend protections to their habitats, such as triggering environmental reviews and other analysis.

Climate change, with its attendant flooding, temperature increases and projected sea level rise, are threatening the Eastern Blackrail, whose numbers have declined in some areas of the country by as much as 90 percent. The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned USFWS to designate the bird as threatened because it is also losing ground to “continued alteration and loss of wetland habitats, land management practices that result in fire suppression (or inappropriately timed fire application that may cause direct mortalities), grazing, haying and mowing, and impounding of wetlands,” according to USFWS.

If the bird receives threatened status, certain activities, such as grazing on public lands, would be prohibited in its habitat during critical time periods, such as nesting and brooding seasons, and post-breeding flightless molt periods, the agency said.

The Atlantic Pigtoe, a type of freshwater mussel, has been found, albeit in low numbers in the Chowan, Roanoke, Tar, Neuse, Cape Fear and Yadkin-Pee Dee river basins. North Carolina considers the Atlantic Pigtoe endangered/critically imperiled, as its habitat has been damaged by water pollution from sewage treatment plants, road runoff, and private wastewater discharges, as well as disrupted by dams.

While these designations can help prolong the life of the species, the protections aren’t airtight. In the case of the Black-Capped Petrel, its primary breeding habitat is on several Caribbean islands, beyond the reach of US authority to control deforestation there. Here in the US, private landowners aren’t required to protect the species unless they are involved in projects that require federal funding or permits.

And the agency can still issue “incidental take permits” if it determines a certain number of the species can be killed, for example, as the result of a highway or pipeline being built. As part of the Complete 540 toll road project in Wake County, USFWS issued incidental take permits for the endangered Dwarf Wedgemussel and the Yellow Lance Mussel, which live in Swift Creek. The Southern Environmental Law Center has signaled it intends to sue over those permits.

 

 

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Education, Environment, News

The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

1. Superintendent Mark Johnson’s new website may have broken North Carolina law

A controversial website touting Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson may have broken North Carolina law, a Policy Watch investigation has found.

That’s because Johnson’s publicly-funded site launched last month without vetting by the Department of Information Technology (DIT), an agency that, under state law, is expected to review the financing and contracts for any state agency web page.

No such review was conducted for Johnson’s site, according to Bill Holmes, Director of Legislative and Public Affairs for DIT. [Read more]

** BONUS READ: Gov. Cooper names three to State Board of Education

2. Whistling past the graveyard: Conservatives ignore Florence’s dire warnings for NC

If there’s been a single most maddening public narrative to accompany the hurricane disaster that has afflicted so much of North Carolina in recent weeks, it probably has to be the chipper, upbeat tone adopted by a number of conservative politicians and think tankers that Florence was, in effect, just “business as usual” for a state located on the nation’s southeast coast.

The spiel usually goes something like this: “We’re used to hurricanes in North Carolina and to pulling together to rebuild. Between our public emergency responders and private charities, we know how to handle these kinds of situations.”

While certainly admirable on some superficial level (obviously, it’s important to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of tragedy), when you dig below the surface, it’s clear that there are some extremely problematic undertones to the “all is well” rap. [Read more]

** BONUS READ: N.C. lawmakers must change course to help rebuild from Florence and ensure resiliency

3. What’s next for for proven but underfunded hog buyout program after Florence?

Just three weeks ago, Hurricane Florence barreled ashore between Wilmington and New Bern with the ferocity of a tyrant. After unleashing 140 mile per hour winds and torrential rain along the coast, she began to mosey inland.

Then, pregnant with rain, she rested. Florence emptied her contents, and the varicose rivers ruptured their banks, leaking contaminants from hog waste lagoons, poultry operations, wastewater treatment plants, coal ash basins and hazardous waste sites into eastern North Carolina waterways.

This week at the governor’s behest, the legislature convened a special session to appropriate disaster relief funds to help communities recover after Hurricane Florence. [Read more]

4.  Lawmakers plan on long game for Hurricane Florence recovery measures

Bipartisanship has become rare in North Carolina, but lawmakers put their differences aside Tuesday to take their first step toward helping those impacted by Hurricane Florence.

“It was really nice to experience collegiality in the legislative chambers and the sort of lack of partisanship,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford). “That was kind of refreshing.”

She and several other Democrats recognized that the two disaster recovery bills that passed unanimously were small first steps in taking care of what the state actually needed. Gov. Roy Cooper signed the bills into law Wednesday afternoon. [Read more]

5. Misogyny, racism on full display in Kavanaugh confirmation process

With a president who’s been promising to overturn Roe v Wade and re-criminalize abortion since he started campaigning, those who believe in reproductive freedom are naturally skeptical that any nominee he chooses from his list is going to leave any precedent in place that supports access to abortion.

Anti-abortion extremists have consolidated almost enough federal power to do so, and are now working to tilt the balance of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe completely, and, in the meantime, make abortion access so restrictive that virtually no one can access abortion safely or easily. And Brett Kavanaugh, having already ruled that the U.S. government preventing a young immigrant from getting an abortion—even after she met all of the requirements set out by the state of Texas—is not an undue burden, seems their guy to do it. [Read more]

6. Editorial Cartoon: “I like Burr…and Tillis too!”