Health goal for GenX in drinking water could be reduced; EPA accepting public comment on draft toxicity report


Rusty Goins, second from left, Beth Kline-Markesino, and Katie Gallagher of North Carolina Stop GenX in Our Water, recited the names of people in New Hanover and Brunswick counties who have died of rare forms of cancer — many of them children. Goins has cancer; Kline-Markesino’s infant son, Samuel, died from developmental defects of his kidney, bladder and other organs. At far left is Rep. Billy Richardson, who represents part of Cumberland County. He was waiting to speak at the EPA meeting about the drinking water crisis that had extended to his district. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

More people living near the Chemours plant could qualify for alternate water supplies if the EPA’s initial findings on the toxicity of GenX, released last week, are finalized.

The basis for the potential switch is the EPA’s draft report proposing a chronic reference dose for GenX that translates to a health goal of 110 parts per trillion in drinking water. (The EPA is taking public comment on the draft. Scroll down for instructions.)

A chronic reference dose is the daily amount of GenX a person can be exposed to for decades without suffering adverse health effects. A health goal is non-enforceable but is widely used by states and tribal nations to issue recommendations. North Carolina’s provisional health goal for GenX in drinking water is 140 ppt.

In the Wilmington area, concentrations of GenX in drinking water are already below 110 ppt.

However, some people who live near the Chemours plant are on private wells that have tested between 110 ppt and 140 ppt. Those households could switch to bottled water, whole-house filters or connection to a public water system. Chemours would be responsible for the cost of installing or connecting those systems.

The wells of 225 households in that area have already tested above 140 ppt.

The plant is near the Cumberland-Bladen county line along NC Highway 87. A spinoff of DuPont, Chemours and its parent company have discharged GenX and other per- and poly-fluorinated compounds into the Cape Fear River, soil and groundwater — as well as emitted into the air — for about 40 years. Those contaminants entered public drinking water supplies in New Hanover and Brunswick counties, and the private wells of dozens of residents living near the plant.

Detlef Knappe, an NC State University professor and a leading scientist in the field of emerging contaminants, said the EPA’s reference dose for GenX is slightly more protective than the one used by DHHS. However, several factors can affect an individual’s total exposure to GenX: The person’s weight, amount of water consumed per day, and the percentage of exposure that comes from drinking water. GenX is also found in non-stick coatings, such as Teflon, as well as pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags and fast-food wrappers. A common estimate is that people receive 20 percent of their exposure to GenX via drinking water.

Kellie Hair, at a Bladen County listening session last February: “This is bullshit! We should tell Chemours to drink our water.”

Bottle-fed infants are particularly vulnerable because they drink a lot of water relative to their small body weight. DHHS based its calculations for a provisional health goal on the potential risks to that population. With the reference dose EPA proposed yesterday, the same assumptions would lead to a health goal of 110 ppt, Knappe said.

A DHHS spokesperson said the agency will continue to use the 140 ppt provisional health goal until the EPA releases its final reference dose. At that time, the spokesperson said, “we will revisit our provisional health goal for GenX.”

The state Science Advisory Board has agreed with DHHS’s calculations and methodology.

If the EPA’s draft findings stand, said Knappe, who is a member of the Science Advisory Board, “I would expect DHHS to lower the health goal” to 110 ppt.

Animal studies have shown that GenX can harm the kidneys, blood, immune system, developing fetus and the liver. Data, the EPA says, also suggests the chemical can cause cancer.

Last week, NC State scientists Jane Hoppin, Nadine Kotlarz and Knappe released results of a study analyzing levels of about a dozen PFAS —  per- and poly-fluorinated compounds — in the blood of 345 Wilmington residents, both children and adults. GenX was not detected but other new and known PFAS were: Nafion byproduct 2 (98 percent of residents sampled) PFO4DA (98 percent), and Hydro-EVE (76 percent). Some of these compounds haven’t been widely found elsewhere.

Concentrations of PFOA, which has been phased out, but lingers in the environment, were higher in Wilmington residents’ blood than the national average: 4.4 parts per billion, compared with 1.5 ppb.

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Commentary, Courts & the Law, Environment, Legislature, News, Special Session, Voting

The week’s Top Stories on NC Policy Watch

1. The next big battle in North Carolina politics is just days away

The 2018 election may finally be in the rear view mirror, but for better or worse, the next battle over the state’s future will commence very soon – on Tuesday, November 27. That’s the day that Republican legislative leaders will convene the latest of their endless stream of “special” legislative sessions.

Unfortunately, there’s little indication that there will be anything very special about this particular convening – unless, that is, one places a high priority on voter suppression, dishonest schemes to amend the state constitution, and rump, lame duck governance in which unaccountable decision makers attempt to foist lasting change upon a mostly uninformed public.

As usual, we know very little about the specifics of the planned session at this point, but multiple news outlets have reported that it will feature the adoption of legislation to implement (i.e. flesh out the details for) some or all of three constitutional amendments approved by voters last week. That means that we could see legislation related to the amendments on voter ID, victims’ rights and hunting and fishing. The tax cap amendment requires no new legislation.[Read more…] ===
2. With the supermajority doomed, North Carolina should reconsider Medicaid expansion

Despite the manufactured panic of the migrant caravan, despite the midterm’s so-called “referendum on Trump,” despite the nation’s nonsensical gun laws, despite an election that often seemed a direct rebuke of misogynist GOP leaders and policies, the pollsters told us the 2018 election would begin and end with healthcare.

Prevailing wisdom held that, in 2010, voters were rankled by Obamacare when they tossed Democrats and other supporters of former President Obama’s signature legislation.

If past is prologue, 2018’s bad-tempered midterms would spell similar problems for Republicans, who’d, according to the polls, irritated voters by meddling with Obamacare. These days the law, warts and all, enjoys broad support in the general public, and enthusiasm for the GOP’s “repeal Obamacare or bust” campaign seemed to wane even before the late John McCain’s dramatic thumbs down.

Remarkably, a full-throated 41 percent of voters told exit pollsters last week that health care was their most important issue this year, according to NBC News, dwarfing even the economy, gun reform, and immigration. To twist Clinton strategist James Carville’s words, it’s Obamacare, stupid. [Read more…]

3. Partisan gerrymandering will be North Carolina’s next big court battle

Breaking the Republicans’ veto-proof legislative majorities was the short game for North Carolina Democrats and many voting rights activists this year. Their long game? Ending partisan gerrymandering for good in North Carolina.

Common Cause, the North Carolina Democratic Party and a group of individual voters filed a lawsuit earlier this week in Wake County Superior Court challenging the redrawn 2017 maps used in the election last week. They are using the state constitution’s Equal Protection and Free Election clauses as well as the free speech and association guarantees to make their case.

“There is nothing ‘equal’ about the ‘terms’ on which North Carolinians vote for candidates for the General Assembly,” the 69-page lawsuit states. “North Carolina’s Constitution also commands that ‘all elections shall be free’ – a provision that has no counterpart in the federal constitution. Elections to the North Carolina General Assembly are not ‘free’ when the outcomes are predetermined by partisan actors sitting behind a computer.” [Read more…]

***Bonus read: Trump nominee Farr could be confirmed to Eastern District judgeship by end of year

4. Republican legislators pledge to probe Cooper Atlantic Coast Pipeline deal

The Joint Subcommittee on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline voted Wednesday to launch an investigation into Gov. Roy Cooper’s office, albeit one without an investigator — and without any notion of how much the inquiry would cost.

The investigation, spearheaded by Republican Sens. Harry Brown and Paul Newton and Rep. Dean Arp, will look into whether Gov. Roy Cooper’s $57.8 million Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Duke Energy and Dominion Energy was a “pay to play” deal to construct a segment of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in North Carolina.

The lawmakers have implied that, in exchange for ponying up the money — which Cooper would control via an escrow account — the utilities would receive key water quality permits from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). [Read more...]

5. High-powered trial lawyers joust as latest hog trial commences

Robert Thackston, who is tall, bald, with a trunk as straight as a redwood’s, removed his midnight-blue suit jacket to reveal a white twill shirt so crisp it threatened to shatter.

On the seventh floor, in Room No. 2 of the federal courthouse in Raleigh, the Texas lawyer sat at the head of a scurry of attorneys hired by Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer. He rocked in his chair and flipped through his thicket of notes, as if perusing a wine list. He raised his eyes and gazed at the grid of lights in the ceiling. He seemed to be rehearsing.
Robert Thackston

Behind him, in the gallery, fellow Texas attorney Michael Kaeske, graying but boyish, smiled and shook hands with each of the plaintiffs. The eight Black neighbors of a 6,000-head industrialized hog farm near Rose Hill in Sampson County had entrusted him with their story. It seemed to weigh on him. Flanked by lawyers from the Salisbury firm Wallace and Graham, which hired him as the lead attorney, he approached his desk and turned around to face the packed courtroom. He touched three fingers to the side of his neck, as if measuring his pulse.

The fourth hog nuisance case against Smithfield Foods began in US District Court on Wednesday. Yet even before the trial, its methods and strategies contrasted with the previous three. The farm in question, Sholar, is owned and operated by Smithfield Foods. Although in all of the cases the defendant is Smithfield, the company has often used its growers — family farmers contractually bound to corporate whims — as a public relations tool to elicit sympathy. This time, there is no family farmer. There is just Smithfield. [Read more…]

6. Folwell, State Health Plan swim against rising tide with denial of insurance coverage to transgender individuals

North Carolina is not the only state whose transgender state employees and dependents are without insurance coverage under their state’s health plan.

But the state’s blanket exclusion of treatments for gender dysphoria—from counseling and hormone treatment to gender confirmation surgery—puts it firmly in the minority.

Only 12 states in the U.S. currently have explicit exclusions of transgender and transition-related health care in their state employee health benefits. Seventeen states and Washington D.C explicitly provide for this type of care as part of their employee health benefits. Twenty-one states don’t specifically cover the treatment but do not have a blanket exclusion, making it easier for patients to appeal for some treatments and for the coverage to expand to include them.

“Generally speaking, it’s a positive trend,” said Logan Casey with the Movement Advancement Project, a Colorado-based group that tracks state stances on LGBTQ rights issues. [Read more…]

7. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:


Environment, Trump Administration

North Carolina’s environmental boss, EPA Region 4 administrator Trey Glenn indicted in Alabama

EPA Region 4 Administrator Trey Glenn, center, at an information and listening session about emerging compounds like GenX, held in Fayetteville earlier this year. Left is DEQ Secretary Michael Regan and right is Peter Grevatt of the EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

This past summer, Trey Glenn, the EPA administrator over Region 4, which includes North Carolina, visited Fayetteville for a listening session on GenX and other emerging contaminants. “It’s a great time to be an American. It’s a great time to work at the EPA,” Glenn said in his tone-deaf opening remarks.

It’s uncertain how long Glenn’s great time at the agency will last. This week an Alabama grand jury indicted Glenn — a Trump administration appointee — on state ethics charges. The allegations stem from his previous work with a law firm that helped a coal company block an EPA cleanup of contamination in a low-income Black neighborhood in north Birmingham. The company, Drummond, was among the parties responsible for the pollution.

Al.com, a paper of record in Alabama, has an excellent story with extensive background on Glenn’s misdeeds. A Mother Jones piece also contains juicy details.

Al.com reported that Glenn and former Alabama Environmental Commissioner Scott Phillips worked in tandem to derail the polluted communities’ efforts to compel the coal company to clean up the contramination.

From Al.com:

From 2014 through 2017, Glenn and Phillips worked with those defendants [the coal company] to oppose the EPA efforts, court exhibits and trial testimony showed. One exhibit in that trial showed that Phillips proposed to “hijack” a north Birmingham community organization that had been working with the EPA to clean up neighborhoods there. During his testimony, Phillips said that by “hijack” he meant “work with.”

Among Glenn’s previous scandals: his financial involvement with Big Sky Environmental, responsible for the so-called “poop train.”

Again from Al.com:

Big Sky Environmental made headlines this year after it accepted human feces from New York for disposal at its Adamsville landfill. A train that delivered that refuse stunk up the surrounding community and after national news coverage became known as the “poop train.”

Mother Jones reported that the EPA didn’t respond to requests for comment about Glenn’s future at the agency. The great times, though, could soon be over.


After Hurricane Florence, derelict boat-owners left their mess for taxpayers to clean up

The US Coast Guard has identified 383 abandoned boats that contain hazardous materials requiring removal. But without specific funding to salvage them, the boats are allowed to sink after the hazardous waste is removed. (Photo: NC General Assembly presentation)

Nautical scofflaws who abandoned their boats before Hurricane Florence might have committed the perfect crime.

Lawmakers on the Joint Oversight Committee on Agriculture, Natural and Economic Resources today were bewildered not only by the audacity of the derelict boat-owners, but also by the absurdity of the process: Once the boats are raised and their hazardous material removed, they are allowed to sink again. And the owners disappear without consequences.

Under the federal government’s Emergency Support Function 10, states receive disaster funding to help them control and remove actual or potential releases of oil and hazardous materials from abandoned watercraft. But EFS 10, as it’s known for short, contains no money to remove the vessels. So contractors lift the boats, remove the toxic material, and then let them sink again.

Only under Emergency Support Function 3 can the boats be hauled away for disposal. And for reasons unknown, North Carolina doesn’t participate in the ESF 3, said Capt. Christian Gillikin of the Atlantic Coast Marine Group, a private company that provides towing and salvage assistance.

“We should ask for EFS 3,” said Rep. Pat McElraft, a Carteret County Republican. “To leave vessels in water is crazy. We have enough pollution in the water to begin with.”

If the state did enroll in EFS 3, then federal funding could help pay salvage companies to dispose of the boats without re-submerging them.

Floodwaters from Hurricane Florence escorted this abandoned boat to a stranger’s garage.

The expense to raise a boat, remove its hazardous materials, allow it to sink, then return later to remove it, is roughly $395 per foot. For a 32-foot boat, the entire process would cost $12,640. But if the boat could be disposed of immediately after the hazards were removed, it would cost about half that amount, Gillikin said.

In a state-wide survey, the US Coast Guard identified 383 derelict vessels containing potentially hazardous materials, such as fuel, oil, LP gas, solvents, acid and lead batteries and flammable signaling flares. Of those, 265 were located after Hurricane Florence.

The long-term environmental damage of these abandoned vessels can be significant. Routine garbage — beer cans, potato chip bags, plastic silverware – is not removed because it’s not deemed hazardous. So that detritus enters the water, breaks down into microscopic pieces, which aquatic life can ingest. Or in the case of plastic bags, turtles and marine mammals can become entangled in them and suffocate.

Fiberglass sailboats “delaminate,” shedding their skin and polluting the water in the process.

“The trash breaks up into little pieces,” Gillikin said. “It’s harder to deal with and costs more money to salvage.”

Abandoned watercraft lurking just under the surface also present hazards to boats — whose owners care about them – as they navigate through sounds and channels.

“Is there a way to identify the boat owners?” McElraft said.

An ID number, similar to those found on vehicles, can trace a boat to its ne’er-do-well owner. But motivated derelict boat owners often post bogus registration numbers, Gillikin said.

Absent state and federal regulations, local jurisdictions would have to pass ordinances to penalize the owners. Town of Beaufort has an ordinance requiring boat owners to remove their vessels and buoys from Taylor Creek. However some of those owners merely relocate their boats to other waterways within Carteret County. “It then becomes a problem for the county,” Gillikin said.

And even if the owners are found, local law enforcement would have to go through the court system to recoup the fees.

The purpose of the oversight committee meeting was to listen to presentations, not to vote. However, it could appropriate up to $50,000 to assess and develop a scope of work for removal and disposal of the boats. To actually remove and haul all 383 identified boats to salvage would cost roughly $4 million.

Lawmakers will likely introduce legislation to require all state-registered vessels to carry minimum liability insurance to cover salvage and recovery costs.

Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a Duplin County Republican, said, “We need to put the responsibility on the owner of the boat.”


MVP Southgate officially files with feds to build natural gas pipeline; DEQ joins chorus of opponents questioning its necessity

This inset show the portion of the MVP Southgate natural gas pipeline that would burrow beneath the Dan River. The turquoise arrow in the center of the screen shows the river. The two other turquoise arrows indicates the locations of the existing Transco natural gas pipelines. Green dotted areas are wetlands; yellow areas are temporary access roads or work areas. Red is the route of the proposed pipeline, and orange is the study corridor. (Map: MVP Southgate, arrows added by NCPW)

Now that MVP Southgate has submitted its official 582-page application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build a new natural gas pipeline in North Carolina, opponents are increasing their pressure on state and local officials to stop the project.

MVP Southgate would be an extension of the larger Mountain Valley Pipeline project, now on hold after an appellate court recently vacated several federal permits for stream crossings. Should MVP Southgate be constructed, it would transport fracked gas originating in northwestern West Virginia, through southern Virginia and then bore for more than 40 miles into North Carolina, where it would enter near Eden in Rockingham County and end in Haw River in Alamance County. MVP Southgate submitted its filing on Nov. 6.

Thousands of North Carolinians, including environmental groups and even the Alamance County Commissioners, have submitted public comments opposing the project. The reasons are voluminous: The pipeline would cross private land, including centuries-old family farms, that would be subject to eminent domain; it would present safety issues for residents in the “blast zone” — the area vulnerable to loss of life and property damage in the unlikely, but not unheard of event of an explosion.

The pipeline would permanently and temporarily destroy sensitive ecosystems by crossing wetlands and streams and deforesting parts of the right-of-way along the route.. It would carve a path under the Dan River, using a horizontal drilling method that could spill chemicals and mud into the waterway. It would hug the Haw River, jeopardizing sensitive buffers that filter pollution and provide wildlife habitat.

And on a global scale, MVP Southgate, like its counterpart in eastern North Carolina, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, would leak methane, a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. (The governor’s executive order on climate change, which sets goals for clean energy and reductions in carbon dioxide, doesn’t mention methane from natural gas pipelines.)

All of this for a project that is almost certainly unnecessary.

We remain unconvinced that the Southgate project is necessary Click To Tweet

Opponents have long maintained that central and western North Carolina are adequately served by existing pipelines that crisscross beneath the region. And detailed maps of the MVP Southgate project that accompany the filing often show where it would parallel the Transco pipeline.

In a Nov. 5 letter to FERC, the NC Department of Environmental Quality wrote that, “as of this date we have been unable to determine whether there exists an overarching need and demand … for the Southgate project as proposed. We remain unconvinced that the Southgate project is necessary.” (Scroll to the end of the story to read the entire letter.)

According to DEQ’s figures, even accounting for the area’s population growth, MVP Southgate would increase availability of natural gas by 100 percent — far exceeding the needs of the region. Other discrepancies prompted DEQ to ask FERC to conduct an independent review of the data.

This chart, included in a letter from DEQ to federal officials, shows that the MVP Southgate Project would create an excess of natural gas in North Carolina.

In its strongly worded letter, signed by Assistant Secretary Sheila Holman, DEQ also said that the federal standard for approval “protects only MVP’s interests.”

Behind MVP Southgate is consortium of publicly traded corporations with Orwellian names that say nothing about what they really do: NextEra, EQT and WGL and RGC Midstream. The familiar Con Edison is in on the deal, and should a sale go through, Dominion Energy, the major owner of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to be constructed in eastern North Carolina.

The project has already been modified since its inception. Most notably, a proposed natural gas compressor station near Eden has been scrapped. The diameter of the pipeline in North Carolina has also decreased from 36 inches to 24 inches, although there is no indication the pressure to transport the gas has decreased.

We will continue to work with state agencies and impacted communities to prevent this unnecessary project from impacting our land, air, and water quality,” says Emily Sutton, Haw Riverkeeper with Haw River Assembly. “The Haw River currently faces industrial and sediment pollution from many sources, and adding a fracked gas pipeline would further degrade this threatened watershed, which is a water source for nearly one million people downstream.”

Even before the official filing MVP Southgate and its contractors have clashed with local landowners along the route. Land agents have reportedly trespassed, bullied, harassed and coerced private property owners to submit to surveys of their land. The Haw River Assembly said MVP Southgate has indicated it plans to work with local law enforcement to obtain a court order to survey parcels that landowners have denied access for the project.

Dominion and Duke Energy used similar tactics to access land along the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. However, after several appearances in federal court, Marvin Winstead, who owns land in Nash County, has still fended off the surveyors.

MVP Southgate plans to operate the pipeline by late 2020. However, that timeline is ambitious. Last week’s filing with FERC triggers formal environmental reviews and public hearings. The consortium will need numerous federal and state permits. It’s also likely that environmental groups will sue to halt the project.

DEQ Letter to FERC by Lisa Sorg on Scribd