Environment

Researchers, state officials to answer questions about safety of Pittsboro’s drinking water

The Haw River at the Bynum Bridge, where elevated concentrations of 1,4-Dioxane and PFAS have been detected. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

State officials and university researchers will answer questions on Wednesday about the safety of Pittsboro’s drinking water, which contains elevated levels of  1,4-Dioxane and perfluorinated compounds (PFAS), known to harm human health. None of the compounds, of which there are thousands, are regulated by the EPA.

The panelists will share study data, discuss the health risks associated with drinking the water, and answer questions about how the state is addressing the contamination statewide. The event is sponsored by the Haw River Assembly.

  • Dr. Heather Stapleton, environmental chemist, Duke University
  • Dr. Detlef Knappe, proessor of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering, NC State University
  • Dr. Jamie Bangma, environmental toxicologist, UNC Chapel Hill
  • Dr. Zack Moore, state epidemiologist, NC Department of Human Health Services
  • Julie Grzyb, permitting officer, NC Department of Environmental Quality

For nearly a decade, Haw River Assembly has been working with academic researchers, local and state agency staff, and affected communities to document and raise awareness around the issue of industrial contaminants in drinking water.

Public meeting about Pittsboro
drinking water
Wednesday, Oct. 16, 6-8 pm
Chatham County Agricultural and Conference Center
1192 US Highway 64 Business W, Pittsboro

University and EPA researchers found 1,4-Dioxane and several types of PFAS in the Haw River and other state waterways more than five years ago. DEQ tested the Haw River near Bynum last year, and found total concentrations of PFAS in raw water ranging from 926 parts per trillion to 1,981 ppt.

North Carolina Health News reported earlier this summer that Pittsboro had failed to notify residents of PFAS contamination in treated water flowing from their taps. Those concentrations, detected in October 2018, ranged from 17.7 ppt to 109.3 ppt.

DEQ and state health officials have recommended that people not drink water containing more than 10 ppt of a single compound or more than 70 ppt in total.

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper, Legislature

Governor’s office agrees to allow employees to publicly answer lawmakers’ questions about Atlantic Coast Pipeline

The segments in red indicate where construction on the pipeline was to begin in 2018; construction scheduled for 2019 along the segment is in blue. Legal challenges have halted the $8 billion project co-owned primarily by Duke Energy and Dominion. (Map: Atlantic Coast Pipeline)

Employees from Gov. Roy Cooper’s office soon could publicly testify before lawmakers about details of a voluntary $57.8 million mitigation fund involving the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The employees could appear before a subcommittee as early as the week of Nov. 4.

If built, the ACP would started at a fracked natural gas operation in West Virginia, traverse through Virginia and enter North Carolina in Northampton County before continuing 160 miles through the eastern part of the state. Tens of thousands of people oppose the project because it would harm waterways, wildlife habitats and air quality, as well as raise environmental justice issues. Many of the communities along the route are largely Black or American Indian, and low-income. 

These pipelines also leak methane, a potent greenhouse gas and major driver of climate change.

In January 2018, Cooper announced his office had brokered a deal that would require Dominion and Duke Energy, the majority co-owners of the natural gas project, to pay into a mitigation fund to help renewable energy and economic development projects in eastern North Carolina.

With two hours of the governor’s announcement, the state Department of Environmental Quality released a statement saying it had granted a key water quality permit that would allow the project to proceed. DEQ had delayed issuing the permit, known as a 401, for several months as it requested more information from Duke and Dominion.

The timing of the two announcements raised suspicions from some lawmakers and ACP opponents — who are rarely on the same side — that the permit approval was contingent upon the $57.8 million fund. Both DEQ and Gov. Cooper have repeatedly denied their respective offices coordinated such an arrangement.

Virginia cut a similar deal, but it was between state environmental regulators and the utilities; it was also binding.

North Carolina lawmakers subsequently hired Eagle Intel, an independent firm composed of former IRS investigators, to look into how the deal was struck.

Last Friday, un an acrimonious exchange of letters, Republicans Sen. Harry Brown and Rep. Dean Arp complained that the governor had instructed some employees “not to cooperate” with Eagle Intel.  Brown and Arp offered to allow the employees to answer questions from the Subcommittee on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline about the governor’s “participation in the ACP permitting process,” as well as inquiries regarding the fund between the executive branch, the solar industry and Duke Energy.

Kristi Jones, the governor’s chief of staff, responded that employees would answer lawmakers’ questions, but only publicly, and not privately, as lawmakers had originally requested. “The fact you intend to inquire about the propriety of the funds paid by Duke is hypocritical at best, given that you have already appropriated those funds. Clearly, you did not believe a mitigation fund was inappropriate. You simply want to control it.”

When Republicans had veto-proof control of both the House and Senate, lawmakers passed legislation redirecting the funds to public school districts along the ACP route. However, no funds have been disbursed because they are to be apportioned in stages, including when the pipeline begins operating.  Legal challenges have halted construction for nearly a year. Recently the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from the utilities, which are contesting a federal appellate court decision to revoke a US Forest Service permit allowing it to cross the Appalachian Trail.

 



Letter From Arp Brown on ACP Investigators Hearing (Text)



Letter From KristiJones to Arp Brown (Text)

Environment, News

BREAKING: New analysis indicates that toxics were present in Wilmington drinking water at extreme levels

Tests of samples collected between 2014 and 2016 reveal sky-high PFAS readings

Astronomical concentrations of toxic compounds commonly known as PFAS were present in the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, years before researchers had the technology to detect them.

According to a new analysis of preserved samples from 2014 to 2016, PFAS that contain an ether molecule were found at concentrations of at least as high as 130,000 parts per trillion near Lock and Dam No. 1, near the drinking water intake for the City of Wilmington. The contamination originated at the Chemours/DuPont facility more than 80 miles upstream.

The samples at Lock and Dam No. 1 were taken in 2015 near by NC State and EPA researchers. But only now, with advanced technology, can scientists more accurately measure the concentrations of PFAS in water.

The newly detected compounds are among the 5,000 types of PFAS. For this study, researchers broaden the scope of their search and discovered 11 that contained ether molecules. These include PFMOAA and Nation Byproduct 2. PFMOAA composed the greatest percentage of the ether subtypes contamination, with 110,000 ppt.

Since traditional water treatment methods can’t remove these compounds, they would have been present in drinking water that flowed from taps in tens of thousands of homes and businesses.

Prof. Detlef Knappe – Image N.C. State

“That’s the best estimate of what people in Wilmington were drinking for 37 years prior,” NC State professor and scientist Detlef Knappe told Policy Watch.

By comparison, state health and environmental officials have recommended that no one should drink water with levels of PFAS of any type above 70 ppt combined or above 10 ppt for a single compound.

The research team of NC State professor Detlef Knappe, graduate students Chuhui Zhang, Zachary Hopkins and James McCord, and Mark Strynar of the EPA in Research Triangle Park, published their findings this month in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters. The research was partially funded by the NC Policy Collaboratory.

Chemours, which until 2015 was DuPont, discharged these perfluorinated and poly-fluorinated compounds into the Cape Fear River in its wastewater. The discharge contaminated the public drinking water supplies of people living downstream, as well as private wells that tap groundwater for drinking.

Chemours had not reviewed the research team’s findings by the Policy Watch deadline, and declined to comment. 

Vaughn Hagerty, spokesman for the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority issued a statement:

“We’re grateful for researchers such as Dr. Knappe, whose work continues to provide a more complete picture of how Chemours and DuPont chose to operate before regulators stepped in.

As troubling as these numbers are, they also may help explain a number of things, such as why we find still PFAS from Chemours and DuPont in raw and finished water we have analyzed. Or why we find their PFAS in our groundwater here in New Hanover County. Or the staggering concentrations of their PFAS in the groundwater under the Fayetteville Works, groundwater that regulators say migrates to the Cape Fear River. Or why researchers are confident that PFAS is in the miles of river sediment between the Fayetteville Works and our raw water intake.

Before the public outrage and regulatory scrutiny began in June 2017, the only thing Chemours said was done to address their PFAS discharges was “additional water emissions abatement technology” they said was added in November 2013 – after researchers found GenX in the Cape Fear. The 130,000-parts-per-trillion sample mentioned by Dr. Knappe was taken in 2014.

And, more to the point, I haven’t seen anything that indicates either Chemours or DuPont planned to do more after November 2013.

We’ve already spent millions of dollars to deal with their actions and we’re embarking on a $43 million project to add new granular activate carbon filters at Sweeney Water Treatment Plant to reduce PFAS. We’ll spend another $2.9 million a year to operate those enhancements.

Chemours speaks about its commitment to sustainability and the equipment it’s adding at the Fayetteville Works to address its PFAS releases. OK. But, look, if your kid has broken windows all over the neighborhood while hitting baseballs over the past few years, you haven’t solved the problem by simply getting her a batting cage. You still have to pay to fix all of those broken windows.”

Chemours ostensibly stopped discharging PFAS, including GenX, into the Cape Fear River in 2018, months after the Department of Environmental Quality revoked its permit. In April 2018, DEQ asked a Bladen County judge to intervene.

Sharon Martin, DEQ spokeswoman also released a statement: Read more

Environment, News

U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear Atlantic Coast Pipeline case

The U.S. Supreme Court announced this morning that it will review a decision by a federal court of appeals that threw up a major barrier to construction of a 600-mile natural gas pipeline being developed by Dominion Energy.

The order by the court consolidates two cases brought by environmental groups against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the U.S. Forest Service. No date has been set for oral hearings. (Click here to explore Policy Watch reporter Lisa Sorg’s extensive coverage of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.)

The cases had been appealed to the nation’s highest court after the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals revoked a permit previously granted by the U.S. Forest Service to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline allowing it to cross the Appalachian Trail.

In a lengthy December 2018 ruling that quoted Dr. Seuss, the 4th Circuit declared that “the Forest Service abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources.”

That finding, said the court, “is particularly informed by the Forest Service’s serious environmental concerns that were suddenly, and mysteriously, assuaged in time to meet a private pipeline company’s deadlines.”

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the development of which is being led by Dominion Energy in partnership with Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas, disputed the appeals court’s conclusion in asking the Supreme Court to review the 4th Circuit decision.

The 4th Circuit, ACP claimed, “ignores key provisions in several statutes, contradicts the longstanding views of every agency involved, and converts a special rule about National Park Service lands into an impregnable barrier dividing energy sources west of the (Appalachian) Trail from consumers east of the Trail.”

Furthermore, the pipeline company complained that the ruling “will stymie this and other needed efforts to serve the Eastern seaboard’s growing energy needs.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center, which has argued the environmentalists’ case in court, has disputed the contention that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is necessary to meet energy demands.

The Virginia and North Carolina portions of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route. Image via the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“One issue regulators and the public and decision makers shouldn’t take their eye off is we still don’t have a clear answer on whether the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a public necessity,” said SELC attorney Greg Buppert.

A statement by Dominion Energy as reported by WBOY (a West Virginia TV station) called the Supreme Court’s decision to take up the case “a very encouraging sign.” (Dominion officials have said in the past that the company has a policy against speaking with the Virginia Mercury.)

“More than 50 other pipelines cross underneath the Appalachian Trail without disturbing its public use. The public interest requires a clear process for the issuance and renewal of permits for such pipelines, and other essential infrastructure. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline should be no different,” the statement read.

Buppert, however, disputed that the court’s decision to review the 4th Circuit ruling was a victory for the pipeline.

“The fact that the court is taking this case up doesn’t mean Dominion wins,” he said. “This issue is not resolved, and it won’t be resolved until the Supreme Court decides this question.”

Sarah Vogelsong is a reporter at the Virginia Mercury, where this story originally appeared.

Environment, News

‘Parents like me should not have the burden of proving that coal ash is dangerous’

Susan Wind and her husband, David Wind. They moved to Florida due to concerns about elevated cancer risks in Mooresville, N.C.

ARLINGTON, Va. — Susan Wind’s 19-year-old daughter is recovering from thyroid cancer, but Wind still worries constantly about her family’s health.

Wind, a former resident of Mooresville, N.C., moved with her family to Florida after her daughter was among the 110 people diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the area within the last five years.

“We didn’t feel safe,” she told Policy Watch in an interview on Wednesday. Her daughter is improving, but she still struggles with her health, Wind said. The move to a new state was hard on her kids, and she’s still concerned about her family. “I’m worried about all of our health,” she said.

After her daughter’s diagnosis, Wind began to investigate the high rate of thyroid cancer in two zip codes near Lake Norman: 28115 and 28117. She believes the illnesses could be linked to toxins contained in the coal ash found throughout the community. She raised $110,000 for a Duke University Study to investigate what might be causing the cancer.

Scientists recommend expanding investigation of suspected thyroid cancer clusters in NC

Policy Watch reported about the suspected cancer cluster and Wind’s family in June 2018.

Wind’s former home is less than two miles from Duke Energy’s Marshall Steam Plant, which sits on Lake Norman.

North Carolina officials in April ordered Duke to remove coal ash from its impoundments at Marshall and five other plants.

Meanwhile, Duke is contesting the decision through the Office of Administrative Hearings.

This week, Wind traveled to a hotel outside of Washington, D.C., to urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to abandon its plans to roll back rules the Obama administration put in place in 2015 to regulate coal ash disposal at power plants around the country.

“It is completely irresponsible to deregulate coal any further so utility companies can save a buck,” Wind told EPA officials as she testified at a public hearing on the proposal.  Read more