Environment

Let’s talk more about the bad idea of spraying garbage juice all over communities of color

Microscopic particles of pathogens and toxic materials from landfill leachate can travel up to five miles, depending on their size and the wind speed. Double whammy: Communities of color are more likely to be near landfills.(Illustration: US Patent Office)

T he thought of being misted with landfill leachate gives new meaning to the term “eau de toilette.” But that’s what could be legalized under the “Allow Aerosolization of Leachate” bill, HB 576. Earlier this week, NCPW reported on the measure, which would allow landfill owners to spray liquid from these lined dumps into the air — without a state permit. In fact, the NC Department of Environmental Quality would be required to allow this aerosolization of garbage juice.

The science behind the technology is absent, as is the legislature’s presentation of the safety of the leachate that is sprayed. But retired scientist Edo McGowan has studied such phenomena. He specializes in environmental medicine, emerging infectious disease and medical geo-hydrology —  the study of human made wastes, their interactions with water and their subsequent health impacts. McGowan, who has published aerosol studies in peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of Environmental Health, calculated how far a particle could travel based on its size and on wind conditions.

First, to give you a sense of the size of a micron, a human hair is 75 microns wide. He calculated that based on a 5 mph wind, a 20-micron particle — about a quarter of the width of a human hair — could travel about a third of a mile before landing. An even smaller particle, about 10 microns, would go for about a mile and a half.

Gustier winds would blow the particles farther. Topography — open, flat areas versus hilly ones — would also affect the route and distance. In sum, depending on their size and the wind speed, microscopic particles of pathogens and toxins in the leachate could travel downwind as far as five miles before settling on the ground, your picnic table — or in your lungs.

There was a brief discussion of microns and distance at the House Agriculture and Environment Committee, but the patent for the leachate sprayer doesn’t address the size of the particles that would fly through the air. The leachate sprayer, invented by Kelly Houston of Cornelius, can throw the aerosol more than 600 feet, depending on the hose pressure, according to the patent. Ostensibly, the pathogens or PCBs or lead or mercury would land from 16 to 650 feet from the end of the nozzle — onto the surface of the landfill. But there’s no science to back up that assertion.

Leachate spraying also presents significant environmental justice concerns. Landfills are disproportionately located in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Several UNC researchers, including the late Steve Wing, studied the racial and economic disparities in siting of landfills. In Environmental Health Perspectives they reported their findings: A solid waste facility was 2.8 times more likely to be in a census block group with more than 50 percent minorities than those with less than 10 percent minorities. Landfills were 1.5 times more likely to be in low-wealth communities.

And for census block groups that didn’t yet have a landfill as a neighbor, the chance of one being located in their neighborhood was 2.7 times greater in communities where more than half the people were minorities.

The bill did survive crossover. After passing the House and the first reading in the Senate, it was referred to the Senate Rules Committee.

 

Environment

Judge Fox: DEQ acted improperly in allowing coal ash to be buried in unmined land in Chatham County

Trucks carry tons of coal ash to the Brickhaven Mine in Chatham County. (Photo: Duke Energy)

A fter two years, North Carolinians now know the legal distinction between a mine and a landfill. That makes all the difference to residents of Chatham and Lee counties, where millions of tons of coal ash from Duke Energy are being stored in both abandoned mines and new, gigantic holes in the ground.

In a judicial order issued March 31, Chatham County Superior Court Judge Carl Fox ruled that the NC Department of Environmental Quality should revoke two of the four mine reclamation permits it had issued to the Charah/ Green Meadow company.

Coal ash can be stored in old slate and clay mines in Chatham and Lee counties, Fox ruled. However, the material can’t be placed in newly excavated areas. Those are effectively landfills and subject to more stringent waste disposal regulations.

Therese Vick of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, one of the groups that petitioned the court, said Fox’s decision is the first step in protecting human health and the environment. “The DEQ is under new leadership,” Vick said. “It is time for Secretary Michael Regan to right this injustice, and stop trying to defend the indefensible.”

Jamie Kritzer, DEQ acting deputy secretary for public affairs, said state environmental and justice department officials are reviewing the order “to determine its implications.”

In July 2015, three environmental and citizens’ groups — BREDL, Environmentalee and Chatham Citizens Against Coal Ash Dump — had filed for a contested case hearing over the permits.

In May 2016, Administrative Law Judge Melissa Owens Lassiter had ruled that DEQ’s Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources legally permitted Charah/Green Meadow to dispose of coal ash not only in the former Brickhaven and Colon mines, but also in newly excavated areas.

Last November, the three groups filed for a judicial review of Lassiter’s order. Their attorney, John Runkle, had argued that DEQ had “conflated” solid waste and mining permits, “creating a hybrid regulatory scheme in order to expedite the permitting process.”

In his ruling, Judge Fox cites the Mining Act of 1971, which excludes certain activities from the definition of mining: “excavation or grading when conducted solely in aid of on-site farming or on-site construction for purposes other than mining.”

DEQ “improperly” issued permits for that unmined land, Fox wrote. Read more

News

Late session environmental changes “an unfortunate way to do business”

enviroWith the legislative session winding down, legislators are moving quickly on a regulatory reform bill that could have a big impact on the state’s environment.

House Bill 593, simply titled “Amend Environmental and Other Laws,” covers a lot of ground — everything from prohibiting certain stormwater control measures, to changing stream water mitigation requirements, to seizing reptiles, to delaying insurance for moped owners.

Rose Hoban at North Carolina Health News highlights some of the bill’s environmental concerns:

There would be fewer requirements around capturing the runoff from a building site. Another provision would allow for more landscaping material like gravel, mulch and sand to run into existing streams and tributaries.

Folks on the downstream end of things found that concerning.

Todd Miller, head of the NC Coastal Federation said that material running into streams, rivers and, eventually, into the ocean, has lots of bacteria in it, from soil, from animals and from people.

“When we develop or use the land, we create runoff that wasn’t there before and increase transport of what’s going downstream,” Miller said. “We have to work to prevent the transport of pollutants off the landscape where they’re in natural abundance.”

He said once that stuff gets into the water, it’s harder to clean it up. It’s better to prevent it from getting there in the first place.

Another part of HB 593 would allow landfill managers to spray the water that collects at the bottom of the landfills, known as leachate, into the air to get rid of it.

According to a presentation submitted to the Environmental Review Commission in February, the aerosolization pumps can spray as much as 600 gallons per minute, with netting controlling the mist created by the spray. Darden said the idea is that spraying the stuff onto the existing landfill allows for the liquids to evaporate and the solids to be reintegrated into the rest of the garbage.

The 14-page bill sailed through committee 45 minutes after being introduced and could be up for a vote on the Senate floor next week.

Guilford County Representative Pricey Harrison calls the rushed legislation “an unfortunate way to do business.”

Read full coverage of HB593 here.

Commentary, News

The coal ash mess: Three “must reads” plus a powerful video

Coal ash clean upSeveral important items of note in the coal ash world this morning:

#1 – The Wilmington Star News reports that Duke Energy has begun moving with what one might describe as “all deliberate speed” (emphasis on deliberate) to remove more than seven million tons of coal ash from just one of its numerous dumps across the state — this one in New Hanover County. In the four-plus months since the removal commenced, 82,000 tons have been moved or roughly 1% of all that needs to come out. It is a testament to the massive nature of the problem and the absurd inaction by Duke and state regulators that things are this bad.

#2 -The Fayetteville Observer reports that the city of Sanford is treating coal ash liquid (“leachate”) in its wastewater treatment plant and then discharging it (along, potentially, with nasty heavy metals) into the Deep River — something that, understandably, worries some environmental advocates.

#3 – Meanwhile, Gov. Pat “Standing in the bathroom door” McCrory continues to mostly ignore the problem. This new and powerful video from the good folks at Progress NC features a woman who lives near a coal ash dump and must now live on bottled water — apparently in perpetuity.  Not surprisingly, the Guv hasn’t responded to her requests for a meeting.

#4 – Finally, the League of Conservation Voters reports that NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) hearings on the handling of coal ash from Duke Energy’s multiple ash pits around the state begin tonight at simultaneous events in Asheville, Dallas (Gaston County), Eden (Rockingham County), and Wilmington. This is from the LCV’s Weekly Conservation Bulletin:

Each of the hearings begins at 6:00pm. Concerned members of the public are encouraged to attend. Those who wish to speak should show up early in order to sign up.

Citizen conservation groups are working to turn out concerned citizens at all the hearings, and are planning a news conference at 5:30pm at the Gaston County hearing site in the town of Dallas. Members of the concerned public are invited to appear for the advance news event as well. The Dallas hearing will particularly address the Riverbend Steam Station, and will be held in the Gaston College Myers Center Auditorium (201 Highway U.S. 321 South, Dallas, NC 28034).

The planned message from citizen conservationists will emphasize that all of Duke’s unlined, leaking coal ash sites across North Carolina are high risk and should be cleaned up by moving the toxic coal ash to dry, lined storage away from rivers and groundwater. The communities and people of our state deserve to have clean water, protected from the threat of toxic coal ash pollution.

None of the sites are in fact “low risk” and they cannot safely be capped and left in place to continuing seeping into our water supplies. More than 200 seeps from Duke’s coal ash pits collectively send about three million gallons a day into our waters. It is past time for DEQ to order swift cleanup of these continuing pollution sources.

The other three March 1 sites are

  • Asheville: AB Technical Community College Ferguson Auditorium, 340 Victoria Road, Asheville NC 28801
  • Eden: Eden Town Hall, 308 East Stadium Drive, Eden NC 27288
  • Wilmington: Cape Fear Community College, room N-202, 411 N. Front Street, Wilmington NC 28401.

Eleven additional hearings will follow in future weeks, between March 10 and March 29.

Uncategorized

Opposition to “mega-landfills” bill mounts

LandfillThe state Senate’s recent approval of legislation that would loosen state regulations on the location of giant landfills — a change conservative lawmakers and industry lobbysists claim is necessary in order for new landfills to be built in the state —  appears to be sparking a loud and growing chorus of opponents.

This morning, the Winston-Salem Journal became the latest newspaper to editorialize against the bill, stating: 

“North Carolina need not become the dumping ground for other states. As for our own trash, we can first greatly reduce its volume and then find appropriate places for new landfills closer to the time when they are needed.”

Meanwhile, environmental advocates have launched a grassroots campaign to defeat the bill before it becomes law. According to a new alert sent out by the N.C. League of Conservation Voters earlier today, the legislation includes provisions that would: Read more