Environment

Residents living near Chemours Fayetteville Works plant invited to participate in state GenX health study

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bladen and Cumberland county health departments plan to test the blood and urine of up to 30 residents living near Chemours’ Fayetteville Works facility for the presence of GenX and 16 other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS.

Health officials will begin calling selected residents near the Fayetteville Works facility this week to invite them to participate, and residents with private wells that had the highest detections of GenX during the sampling will be contacted first.

At least 225 private drinking water wells in neighborhoods near the plant have tested above the state’s provisional health goal of 140 parts per trillion for GenX. Other fluorinated compounds previously have been discharged and emitted from the Chemours plant, and are  present in the environment.

The purpose of the testing is to determine if PFAS can be detected in blood or urine from area residents, and if so, how their levels compare to levels detected from other parts of the country. Human health effects associated with PFAS exposure are not well understood, although there is some indication they may be linked to thyroid disease, high cholesterol and some cancers.

Participation is limited to no more than 30 people based on CDC testing capacity. Each household will be limited to one adult participant and one child participant (12-17 years old). Individual results will be shared with participants, and summary results will be shared with the public without participants’ private information.

“This is an important next step in understanding GenX and other PFAS exposure in humans,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore, in a press statement. “However, this testing cannot tell us whether GenX or other PFAS are associated with any specific health effects.”

Samples will be sent to the CDC in Atlanta for testing. Because some PFAS are expected to be easier to detect in blood, NC DHHS said, and others are expected to be easier to detect in urine, samples will be tested differently:
Urine samples will be tested for GenX and seven other PFAS.
Blood samples will be tested for nine PFAS, and may be tested for GenX if it is detected in urine samples.

Another similar study is being conducted by NC State University’s Center for Human Health and the Environment; that group of scientists is studying the blood and urine of nearly 200 people in New Hanover County, where GenX was initially detected in the drinking water.

 

 

Environment

Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board could leverage local communities to pressure General Assembly for stronger laws

 

The 16-member board includes scientists, lawyers, public health experts and community organizers who are white, Black, Latinx and American Indian.

What the EPA won’t do because its leadership is beholden to polluting industries. What DEQ can’t do for lack of funding and political power. What many local governments refuse to do for fear industry will pass them over.

The state’s 16-member Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board is charged, if not explicitly, to do that. To wield political pressure, backed by the voices from their respective communities, and squeeze the General Assembly, federal and state regulators, and local planning and zoning boards to protect low-income neighborhoods and communities of color from the ravages of pollution.

“When do environmental justice communities get to be made whole?” said board member Veronica Carter at a meeting in Hollister last week. “We’ve got to figure out how to do something in the permit process or these communities will never have a chance.”

An environmental justice analysis is legally required in only one state program: The permitting of solid waste landfills.

Assistant DEQ Secretary Sheila Holman told the board that new landfills require an environmental impact analysis, which includes an assessment of the project on vulnerable communities. DEQ can deny a permit application for a new landfill if the  agency determines the cumulative impact disproportionately affects a minority or low income community.

There is no environmental justice requirement in the state for the siting of major air polluters, like wood pellet plants. Such a mandate would require the cooperation of the General Assembly, which under Republican control, has been loathe to add any environmental protections to the state law. In fact, legislators have rolled back many of the protections. Solid waste landfills now are allowed to operate under “life-of-site” permits, sharply curbing communities’ right to comment on the very operations that could contaminate the quality of their air, land and drinking water.

It’s also worth noting that the state’s Environmental Management Commission has significant rule-making authority. EMC members are appointed by the governor and House and Senate leadership. Rarely, if ever, does the EMC discuss environmental justice issues when it approves rules.

When do environmental justice communities get to be made whole? Click To Tweet

Board member Jamie Cole asked how the group could advise the Environmental Management Commission not only on justice issues but also on public engagement. The rule-making process can be byzantine and deeply steeped in science and legal minutiae; someone must be able to translate the issues into layperson’s terms. (Holman said EMC Chairman J.D. Solomon has requested to meet Environmental Justice board Chairman Jim Johnson Jr.)

Although political tides could turn in the next election, Regan also noted that any advances DEQ makes under his leadership and that of Gov. Roy Cooper could easily be undone under a different administration. “What should the legislative fix be?” said DEQ Secretary Michael Regan. “What should the General Assembly be required to do for legacy purposes?”

Regan also slipped inn a not-so-subtle criticism of previous DEQ secretaries John Skvarla and Donald van der Vaart, who were appointed by then-Gov. Pat McCrory. That administration routinely ignored environmental justice issues in its pursuit of being “business-friendly.”

“There is a lot willingness from staff to jump in [to address environmental justice],” Regan said. “A lot of this energy had been suppressed.” Read more

Environment

DEQ slow its roll on approving methyl bromide emissions from proposed log fumigation; Royal Pest has dicey history

 

Sandy Hester and his daughter, Mary, implore state environmental officials to deny the air permit for a fumigation operation near Delco. “What you’re doing is insane,” Mary said. A public hearing and information session were held in May at East Columbus High School. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

Two critical air permits involving methyl bromide are still under review by the NC Department of Environmental Quality, placing the companies’ plans for log fumigation on hold.

Royal Pest Solutions, based in New Castle, Del., and Malec Brothers, headquartered in Australia, had submitted applications for air permits last November. Although methyl bromide has been phased out in most countries because of its toxicity and its depletion of the ozone layer, there are exemptions. China, for example, requires logs entering its borders to be fumigated with methyl bromide to kill any invasive pests.

The two proposed fumigation facilities would export logs, most of them timbered in North Carolina, to China.

As Policy Watch reported in May, Malec Brothers proposed a log fumigation facility in rural Columbus County, near Delco and Riegelwood. That operation, which would be within a mile of a school, would emit 100 to 140 tons of methyl bromide each year, as much as 40 times more than the amount emitted from all sources statewide. Overwhelming community opposition prompted DEQ’s Division of Air Quality to slow down its review to further consider the public comments.

Division of Air Quality spokeswoman Sharon Martin said Malec Brothers has not amended its application to change emission amounts or controls. The company would place logs in large shipping containers, then infuse them with methyl bromide gas for 16 to 72 hours.

The containers would then be opened to allow any remaining gas to escape. The company’s air permit application stated that it would contain any excessive methyl bromide leaks using “sandbags and duct tape.”

As for Royal Pest Solutions, it has proposed a smaller facility at 476 Lees Meadow Road in Scotland Neck that would emit up to 9.5 tons of methyl bromide each year. Like Malec Brothers, that proposed operation would also use shipping containers for fumigation. However, according to Royal’s air permit application, the company would also use the tarp method. Logs would be piled on the ground, covered by a plastic tarp and fumigant would be injected inside. The emissions from the bulk piles beneath the tarp would be vented through a 30-foot stack.

Anne Bookout, vice president and general counsel for Royal Pest Solutions, told Policy Watch the company’s permit is still pending. “I understand that the regulators are not issuing any fumigation permits until they have resolved some of their internal issues with fumigation.”

The Lees Meadow Road neighborhood includes other industry, such as a lumberyard. But the facility would also lie a half-mile east-northeast of the Sylvan Heights Bird Park, a main tourist destination for Halifax County, as well as a quarter-mile from St. Matthew Holy Church. According to the EPA’s Environmental Justice Screen, of the 2,193 people who live within two miles of the proposed facility, 79 percent are from communities of color.

Emails obtained under the Public Records Act show that on May 1, Charles McEachern, an environmental engineer with the Division of Air Quality, told Bookout that “given the public hearing” for the Malec Brothers permit and “ongoing internal staff discussions” additional changes to the permit could be necessary. “At this time, your permit will be placed on hold,” in part, pending the” outcome of the Malec Brothers public hearing.”

In 2015, Royal was ordered to stop its fumigation operations at Suffolk County, Va., facility. The Virginia DEQ revoked the company’s air permit for failure to notify the agency before construction, anticipated startup, and actual startup. According to public documents, Royal also did not obtain a permit before construction; nor did it submit a Title V permit
application within one year of startup of the facility.

Last year, Virginia DEQ cited Royal’s Chesapeake, Va., fumigation operation, fining it $33,000 for violations of its air permit. Those violations included failure to meet any of the three minimum requirements: The company did not maintain a 300-foot zone that was off-limits to the public; it did not use a capture and control system for the fumigant; and it did not use monitoring equipment or methods to prevent levels of methyl bromide from exceeding approved concentrations in ambient air.

 

 

Environment

Dust-up between DEQ, advocates over environmental justice analysis at HF Lee plant; comment period ends today

The HF Lee plant in Goldsboro, as the smokestacks are being demolished. The plant has been retired, but four ash impoundments remain onsite. That ash could be processed for beneficial use at a new operation at the facility. (Photo: Duke Energy)

An environmental group is criticizing state regulators for failing to release an environmental justice analysis on a fly ash project at Duke Energy’s HF Lee plant before the public comment period closes.

Duke Energy wants to process fly ash for beneficial uses, including an ingredient in cement, at its Lee plant, at 1199 Black Jack Church Road in Goldsboro. The facility will require an air permit; the draft application is available online. The public comment period ends at 5 p.m. today. Interested persons can submit written comments via email to Ed.Martin@ncdenr.gov

“We have not finalized or released the environmental justice report because our process is to review the public comments and incorporate those into the final environmental justice analysis,” said DEQ spokeswoman Sharon Martin. “However, based on the public feedback this week, we are looking at a change going forward, with the release of a snapshot of EJ information during the public comment period, with the final report after.”

Therese Vick, community organizer with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, told Policy Watch that DEQ had informed her the analysis would be available in time for the public hearing, held earlier this week. “Their denial to extend the public comment period gives the community no opportunity to review or provide input on the report before a decision on the permit is made.”

DEQ conducted a similar assessment for a proposed fly ash project at Duke Energy’s Buck plant in Salisbury. That analysis was released on April 13; the public comment period ended on April 10.

The facility will process up to 400,000 tons of wet or dry fly ash annually. Duke Energy is using scrubbers and other advanced technologies to reduce air emissions. However, the operation won’t be emissions-free. Each year, Duke could emit more than 59 tons of very small particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, which can harm the respiratory system, especially of vulnerable people. Other annual potential emissions include 116,000 tons of greenhouse gases, 98 tons of sulfur dioxide, as well as smaller amounts of toxic air pollutants benzene, arsenic and chromium 6.

DEQ uses several publicly available tools to conduct environmental justice analyses, including the EPA’s Environmental Justice Screen and census data. That information can help DEQ determine whether a proposed permit or project disproportionately impacts communities of color or low-income neighborhoods.

According to the EJ screen, per capita income for people living within two miles of the Lee plant is $17,847 per year. That’s less than Goldsboro’s per capita income of $19,243, according to 2016 census data — and far less than the state average of $26,779. Using this data, regulators could decide that low-income communities would bear the pollution burden of the facility.

Two-thirds of people living in that area are white, according to the EJ screen, while 55 percent of Goldsboro’s population is Black.

However, data tells only part of the story. It’s equally important to canvass the area — to gather “ground truth” — to determine, for example, if the majority of people living closest to the plant are from communities of color. Age, disability status and health information of these areas can also factor into an analysis.

Environmental justice is a primary focus of both Secretary of the Environment Michael Regan, who is from Goldsboro, and Gov. Roy Cooper. DEQ’s first Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board held its inaugural meeting earlier this week. At that meeting, the agency acknowledged that it had not always succeeded at adequately communicating with the public. Last month, DEQ hired a bilingual public engagement liaison, Carolina Fonseca Jimenez, to help the agency with outreach, especially in rural communities.

The Lee and Buck facilities are two of three fly ash beneficiation projects in North Carolina. The other is  Cape Fear plant in Moncure, in Chatham County. These operations are mandated by a 2016 state law that amended the Coal Ash Management Act. The law requires the impoundment owner to identify three ash impoundment sites in North Carolina that could be suitable for a beneficial reuse facility.

The Lee plant, a retired coal-fired facility, has four ash ponds.

Legislature, News

Remember that weird aquarium that lawmakers funded? Here are the firms that want to build it.

The 1,300-acre Blake Farm in Scotts Hill in Pender County touts itself as a “master planned community with amenities that everyone is talking about.”

Everyone was certainly talking about it last October, when a budget and agency technical corrections bill introduced a last-minute, one-time and frankly, inexplicable $300,000 appropriation for another state aquarium just 78 miles from the one in Pine Knoll Shores and 57 from another in Kure Beach. A third state aquarium at Roanoke Island is 200 miles north, and a fourth at Jeanettes Pier is at Nags Head.

The Department of Natural and Cultural Resources said it did not request the funding.

The three finalists are HH Architecture, headquartered in Raleigh; Bowman, Murray, Hemingway in Wilmington; and Lindsey Architecture based in Greensboro.

The development  is being constructed by the Trask Land Company, owned by Raiford Trask III, a campaign contributor primarily to Republican candidates. Trask has said that the shellfish and research would be the focus of the Blake Farm aquarium.

DNCR is in charge of requesting, evaluating and awarding contracts for the aquarium portion. It’s unclear how the department will finance occupancy and operations of the aquarium. This year’s budget contained $100,000 to repair the roof on the Fort Fisher Aquarium, but that was the only aquarium-related appropriation.

According to bid documents, HH Architecture has built a polar bear exhibit at the NC Zoo, in addition to nature centers, the NC State Dairy Museum and formulating park master plans. Bowman, Murray, Hemingway designed additions and renovations to the aquariums at Fort Fisher, Roanoke Island and Pine Knoll Shores. And Lindsey Architecture oversaw the “SciQuarium” at the Greensboro Science Center.

DNCR is expected to announce the winning firm later this summer.

HH Arch Aquarium Bid Sm by Lisa Sorg on Scribd

BMH Aquarium Bid Sm by Lisa Sorg on Scribd

Lindsey Aquarium Bid Sm by Lisa Sorg on Scribd