Environment

The toxics in the water at Camp Lejeune can be found throughout North Carolina

Ug/l stands for parts per billion. If there are a billion teaspoons of water in a swimming pool, under federal law no more than five could be contaminated with benzene. Map courtesy UNC Gillings School of Public Health

There have been at least six major wars and nine smaller U.S. invasions since the drinking water became contaminated at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville. Yet the cancer-causing contaminants are not limited to the military base. Benzene, which comes from petroleum and chemical industries; TCE, known as trichloroethylene, a metal degreaser; and PCE, short for perchloroethylene, a dry cleaning agent, have all been found at various concentrations in private drinking water wells throughout the state.

From 2000-2010, some drinking water wells in at least half the counties in North Carolina contain low levels of benzene, according to the UNC Gillings School of Public Health. However, there is no federal safe level of benzene in drinking water, only a the EPA’s “enforceable regulation” of 5 parts per billion. (States can enforce more stringent standards; North Carolina’s is the same as the EPA’s.) And there are wells in Edgecombe County that have tested twice that federal safe drinking water standard.

According to the Environmental Working Group, since 2004, seven water utilities in North Carolina reported detecting benzene in tap water: Monticello Estates in Greensboro, the town of Columbus, Middlesex Water System, Wakefield in Raleigh, Camelot Mobile Home Park in Asheville, Mountain Spring Water System in Linville, and Iredell Water Corporation in Statesville.

 

Ug/l stands for parts per billion. If there are a billion teaspoons of water in a swimming pool, under federal law no more than five could be contaminated with PCE. Map courtesy UNC Gillings School of Public Health

TCE and PCE, which are linked to cancer in humans, have also been detected in private well water in half the counties in the state, according to the UNC Gillings School. (The other half of the counties had not been tested in 2010.) Some wells in Randolph and Stanly counties tested above the federal safe drinking water level of 5 parts per billion.

TCE is also the culprit in the contamination of several wells in the Stony Hill Road subdivision in Wake Forest. Discovered in 2005, the TCE was also detected in soil and groundwater. The affected wells have been closed and those homes are now serviced by the private water company Aqua NC.

The long-standing contamination problems at Camp Lejeune were in the news again this week when the VA approved a rule to expand part of the Camp Lejeune Act to include more soldiers who might have been sickened by the water. Congress passed the act in 2012. It stated that that affected soldiers had to live for at least 30 days — consecutive or nonconsecutive — on base any time from Jan. 1, 1957, to Dec. 31, 1987. (An amendment backdated that period to Aug. 1, 1953.) It also listed several disorders connected to the contamination that allowed eligible soldiers to receive health care benefits.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has listed eight diseases that could have been caused by chronic exposure to the contaminated water on base: kidney cancer, liver cancer, bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, adult leukemia, multiple myeloma, aplastic anemia and other bone marrow disorders, and Parkinson’s disease.

The new rule differs from the Camp Lejeune Act in that it establishes a connection between the diseases and the time of service, which entitles veterans to disability compensation and other benefits. The Camp Lejeune Act provided only for health care treatment for illnesses related to the contamination.

The new rule also includes former reservists and National Guard members who lived at Camp Lejeune. Like regular active-duty military who were sickened by the water, these soldiers are also entitled to VA benefits in connection with the contamination.

The contamination was initially discovered in the early 1980s. That’s when in response to new Environmental Protection Agency standards, the Marine Corps monitored its water quality for volatile organic compounds. In 1982, the Marine Corps discovered elevated levels of the benzene, TCE and PCE in two of the eight on-base drinking water systems.

 

Commentary

Forsyth County teacher dissects the folly and hypocrisy of school privatization

One of the best op-eds of recent days in North Carolina was the latest missive from occasional NC Policy Watch contributor and Forsyth County public school teacher, Stuart Egan. This is from Egan’s essay (“Offenders of public education should be its defenders”) that appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal this past Friday:

“Public education is a sacred trust of the citizenry for the benefit of the entire public, not an open market for capitalistic ventures. If one wants to make the argument that states like North Carolina are free to allow for competition within its public school system, then one would need to explain how that complies with the state constitution, which explicitly says that all students are entitled to a good quality education funded by the state.

An adequately fully-funded public-school system is a foundational cornerstone for a democracy in which participants are represented by those elected to defend the very state constitution they are sworn to uphold.”

Egan then goes on to explain how a raft of conservative North Carolina politicians — all of them, ironically, public school graduates — are abetting the privatization process through, among other things, the rapid expansion of vouchers and unaccountable charters. He further notes that this is happening despite a growing body of compelling evidence that the notions of “competition” and “market principles” in the delivery of universal education are a sham.

Egan quotes Stanford University researcher Dr. Frank Adamson:

“The data suggest that the education sector is better served by a public investment approach that supports each and every child than by a market-based, competition approach that creates winners…and losers. While competition might work in sports leagues, countries should not create education systems in which children lose in the classroom….

…mechanisms such as vouchers, charters, and markets allow for private firms to compete in the education market, under the argument that increased competition will provide consumers (students and families) with a greater choice, thus increasing quality. However, in practice, public education contains different constraints than business markets, most notably the obligation of providing every child with a high-quality education…privatizing education has accompanied lower and/or more disparate student performance, likely because markets operate with different principles than the requirements of public sectors.”

Egan concludes with the following powerful plea:

“Milwaukee has showed us that vouchers do not work. New Orleans has showed us that unregulated charter schools segregate communities without increasing achievement. Tennessee is showing us right now that achievement school districts do not work. Ironically, all of those forces are being enabled here in North Carolina by the very people who should be defending public education and we are seeing the same disappointing results.

If those same legislators want ‘every student to succeed,’ then creating market-place competition with taxpayer money is antithetical to that mantra. They should preach collaboration, not opposition.

North Carolina was once a model for public education. Don’t let it become the lesson others should not repeat.”

On this King Day holiday in which many in our nation renew the call for true equal opportunity, Egan’s essay is an apt reminder that universal, free, integrated public schools are an absolutely essential predicate to that achievement.

Courts & the Law, News

Feds file court motion in attempt to make NC comply with mental health services agreement

Attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion last week in federal court to enforce a 2012 settlement agreement with the state of North Carolina, alleging it failed to comply with requirements by not providing enough community-based housing to adults with serious mental illnesses.

The agreement required the state to provide 1,166 community-based supportive housing slots for adult Medicaid beneficiaries with serious mental illness by July 1, yet only 650 individuals occupied those housing slots on June 30, the court document states. The agreement also required the state to provide supported employment services to 1,166 individuals by the same date but only 708 were receiving such services on June 30.

The agreement was struck to prevent a costly lawsuit after a DOJ investigation found North Carolina was segregating its mentally ill population into adult care homes rather than providing them with integrative community services, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

There has been a dispute between the state and the feds about the interpretation of filling a housing slot and providing supported employment services. In the documents filed last week, the U.S. contends that “under its interpretation, [North Carolina] could claim compliance even if no one occupies a Housing Slot at the conclusion of the Agreement. Similarly, the State could claim compliance even if no one in the target population receives Supported Employment Services.”

The State’s new interpretations run contrary to the terms of the Agreement and the parties’ intent. The only reasonable interpretation of the housing provisions requires the State to count only individuals residing in permanent supported housing. And the only reasonable interpretation of the employment services provisions requires the State to serve individuals in the target population. Moreover, the State’s conduct prior to this dispute belies the validity of its new interpretations. During the first several years of implementation, the State reported on compliance by counting only occupied Housing Slots and by counting only individuals in the target population receiving Supported Employment Services.

 The U.S. has asked the court to find North Carolina non-compliant and to order a schedule of monthly obligations to bring it back into compliance by a set date.

A schedule of monthly obligations is warranted because, based on past performance, it is highly unlikely that the State could comply with its July 2016 housing and employment services obligations immediately or even within thirty days. Instead, requiring the State to meet its July 2016 obligations under a schedule of monthly obligations will increase the likelihood that the State will comply with its July 2016 obligations in a timely manner and be fully compliant at the Agreement’s conclusion, scheduled for 2020.

News

Statement from NC Justice Center Executive Director Rick Glazier: Lawsuit against Medicaid expansion proposal should be dismissed

This evening, Republican state legislative leadership filed a federal lawsuit seeking to halt any attempt to increase access to health care for hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians.
The lawsuit should be summarily dismissed for a number of reasons. First, it turns a solely state law dispute over the power of the Governor — one fully capable of being decided, and one that must be decided, by state judges under state law — into a federal case. This diminishes state authority and the rights of our state courts. Second, the lawsuit is entirely premature as the federal government has made no decision to be litigated.
Finally, the lawsuit invokes federal law and constitutional provisions that are not at issue here in any way. Put bluntly, this is a blatant attempt to place this issue, prematurely and without authority, into federal court because the Republican leadership does not want any state court involvement in the dispute. So now we have a lawsuit that has invented federal claims attempting to put a basic state law dispute into federal court. There may be a dispute, but there is no basis to make a federal case out of it.
The lawsuit should be called out for what it is — frivolous, groundless, and without merit, and it should be procedurally dismissed.

Environment

Duke Energy unveils payment, water plans for property owners with private wells

Duke Energy will offer to pay $5,000, plus other stipends to property owners whose wells are within a half-mile of coal ash basins, the utility announced late this afternoon. Duke Energy_release_watersolution

In a news release, Duke Energy said it had received approval from the NC Department of Environmental Quality to offer new permanent water supplies to the neighbors.

The plan includes payments to residents for connections to public water supplies as well as a $10,000 water filtration system for residents who select it.

  • The company will offer a $5,000 goodwill payment per property to support the transition to a new water supply.
  • Duke Energy will provide all eligible residential property owners a property value protection plan. If a homeowner sells his or her property (or is under contract to sell) before Oct. 15, 2019, and does not receive fair market value, Duke Energy will cover the difference in price.
  • In communities where a public water supply is available and selected, neighbors will receive a stipend to cover approximately 25 years of water bills. The payment will be based on water rates in their community and an average residential usage of 5,000 gallons a month. The stipends range from nearly $8,000 to $22,000, depending on the local water rate.
  • Neighbors who select the sophisticated water treatment option will benefit from the value of the approximately $10,000 system, plus long-term maintenance paid by the company.

No resident is required to accept the money or the water supply.

By providing these permanent supplies, the utility can choose to cap and close the coal ash basins onsite, according to state law.

Tests have shown that several wells near Duke Energy facilities have elevated levels of hexavalent chromium, also known as Chromium 6. But a Duke University study concluded that the contamination is naturally occurring, not from the basins. However, researcher and geochemistry professor Avner Vengosh said last October that arsenic and selenium in well water near those ponds does come from coal ash. “The impact of leaking coal ash ponds on water resources is still a major environmental issue,” Vengosh said.

In its preliminary approval, NCDEQ noted it will gather additional information about water quality standards and the treatment systems. Duke Energy said it will provide the agency with any information that it requests as part of that process.