‘Climate change is fundamentally altering the Colorado River’: States, tribes grapple with drought

Read Congressman David Price’s retirement statement here

Veteran North Carolina Congressman, David Price announced today that he will not seek reelection in 2022. Price, 81, has served various iterations of a Triangle-based congressional district with distinction for more than three decades. The announcement seems sure to set off a great deal of political maneuvering and is likely to have an impact on the congressional redistricting process currently underway at the North Carolina General Assembly. State Senator Wiley Nickel of Wake County, for instance, had already expressed an interest in filling a congressional seat even before the announcement. Other potential candidates are sure to emerge in the days ahead.

Here is the official statement released today by Price’s office.

Congressman Price Announces He Will Not Seek Re-Election 

Chapel Hill, NC (October 18, 2021) – Today,Congressman David Price (NC-04), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee and Chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development(THUD)Appropriations Subcommittee announced he will not seek re-election in 2022 and released the following statement.

“I am announcing today that I will not seek re-election as representative for North Carolina’s Fourth Congressional District.  I do so with a profound sense of gratitude to the voters of the Fourth District; to the supporters who have backed me in 18 successive campaigns; and to my staff in Washington and the district, whose competence and dedication are responsible for the quality of representation and service I have been able to provide.  None of this would have been possible without the loyalty and support of my wife, Lisa, my partner in this venture all along the way, and the unfailing encouragement of family, friends, and colleagues.

“In retiring from a job like the one I hold, one should not expect a complete sense of closure.  I take satisfaction in what we have been able to achieve for the Fourth District and North Carolina – from the EPA lab and National Guard headquarters to intercity rail, improved housing, and dozens of community projects.  I am leaving my two positions of leadership, the Chairmanship of the Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee and of the House Democracy Partnership (HDP), optimistic about the policy course we have set and the foundations we have laid.  But as we tell our HDP partners in discussing the realization of democracy, most of what we do remains a work in progress.  That is certainly evident now, as we strive to secure long overdue investments in our transportation and housing infrastructure, child care and early childhood education, and other pressing needs.  Looming over it all is the frightful legacy of the last four years and urgent questions about the future of our constitutional democracy.

“So while it is time for me to retire, it is no time to flag in our efforts to secure a “more perfect union” and to protect and expand our democracy.  I am deeply grateful to the people of the Fourth District for making my service possible and for what we have been able to achieve together.  And I promise, in the fifteen months remaining and beyond, to continue fighting for the just and inclusive country we believe in.”

Congressman Price began his service in the House from 1987-1994 and won re-election again in 1996 and has served uninterrupted since.

A summary of Congressman Price’s accomplishments can be found here.

PFAS-contaminated foam found at Caswell Beach, Oak Island

PFAS-contaminated foam washed ashore near the Ocean Island Fishing Pier this past spring. Although not all foams contain PFAS, state environmental and health officials caution people not to touch the substance. (Photo courtesy Emily Donovan)

The Ocean Crest Pier on Oak Island is a premier spot for saltwater fishing, where the sea teems with flounder and cobia, pompano and king mackerel. 

This past spring, Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear, spotted not fish, but odd foam that looked like mounds of Redi-Wip, amassing on the beach. She partnered with scientists at NC State University, who sampled the material and found that it likely contained at least a dozen types of toxic PFAS, according to a Sept. 28 report.

The source of the PFAS-contaminated foam is unknown. PFAS are widespread in the environment, where they persist for hundreds of years. 

Their presence on the beach is troubling. Previous research theorized that touching PFAS did not present a health risk, but a 2020 mouse study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health showed that “dermal exposure” — skin contact — with a type of compound, PFOA, harms the immune system and “raises concern about potential adverse effects,” the study authors wrote.

“People are walking barefoot on the sand,” Donovan said, adding that beachgoers could also be exposed through contaminated sea spray.

There are at least 5,000 types of PFAS, which are specifically manufactured or are the byproducts of industrial processes. PFAS are found in many consumer products, including fast food packaging, pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, carpeting, furniture, Teflon cookware, and stain- and water-resistant materials.

Foam leaving the downspout and gutter system at Emily Donovan’s home (Photo courtesy Emily Donovan)

Also known as perfluorinated and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS have been linked to multiple health problems: thyroid disorders, kidney and testicular cancer, reproductive issues, low-birth weight, high cholesterol, and a depressed immune system.

There are no legally enforceable federal or state standards for PFAS in drinking water, although both the EPA and the NC Department of Environmental Quality have issued a health advisory goal of 70 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFAS. State regulators have also recommended not drinking water that contains more than 10 ppt of any single compound. The EPA is expected to announce additional information later today, which it is calling a “road map” for regulating PFAS.

The NC State scientists conducted “non-targeted analysis” of the beach foam, as well as foam found in other coastal locations, including rainwater flowing through the gutters at Donovan’s  home in Brunswick County.

“Targeted analysis” tries to find a specific type of PFAS compound; it’s like fishing only for flounder. Non-targeted analysis tests for any type of PFAS, comparable to fishing for any species you can catch.

Based on the test results, NCSU scientists determined that the foam near the Ocean Crest Pier “confidently” contained 12 types of PFAS and “probably” contained another eight. Because of the testing method, the concentrations were not available, only that a compound was likely present or not. (There is no EPA-approved or certified method for collecting or testing of foam, so sampling results are only estimates.)

Six types of PFAS were detected in water leaving the gutters at Donovan’s home. “Is this coming from Chemours” — a source of some PFAS 80 miles upstream in Bladen County — “or somewhere else?” Donovan said. “It shouldn’t be in my gutters.”

Foam sampling sites conducted by NC State University scientists, April-May 2021; *two sampling sites close to each other (Map: Lisa Sorg, based on NCSU data)

Number of types of PFAS that were “confidently present” in foam, according to NC State University scientists

Private residence, Emily Donovan’s home in Leland (6)
Ocean Crest Fishing Pier (12)
701 Caswell Beach Road (10)
Oak Island (12)
Along Cape Fear River (11)
264-298 E. Bay St. (10)

Anna Gurney, spokeswoman for the NC Department of Environmental Quality, told Policy Watch that agency investigators go out monthly by boat and on foot, looking for foam. Their investigations have found PFAS-contaminated foam in 15 locations across the state, although the sources are still unclear. Policy Watch provided the most recent data from NC State to the agency, which is reviewing it, Gurney said

Most of the time, though, DEQ officials rely on public reports. In the past 18 months, Donovan has reported other foam sightings, as have residents in Cumberland and Bladen counties, where it showed up in private driveways and culverts. The compounds also have been found in foam in Falls Lake and the Neuse River.

Even the western part of state has not been spared. Near Shelby, in Cleveland County, residents spotted foam in a stream. Although DEQ has not pinpointed the source, a nearby facility has a state permit to apply petroleum-contaminated soil on land. Petroleum doesn’t contain PFAS, but if oil and gasoline has been sprayed with firefighting foam containing PFAS, then those materials could become contaminated.

PFAS can wind up hundreds, if not thousands of miles from their source. In some cases, industry discharges the compounds into rivers, contaminating water supplies downstream. The compounds can also hitchhike in the air, through a process known as “atmospheric deposition.” Wind can carry the compounds far from their source, then unload them on moisture droplets, which fall to the earth. Once on the ground, the compounds can infiltrate the soil and reach groundwater, often a drinking water supply, particularly for rural residents.

PFAS tends to concentrate in foam; testing in other parts of the state found that PFAS levels in the water were much lower. However, the compounds have also been detected in fish tissue. State environmental officials found PFAS in fish in the privately owned Marshwood Lake, which is within seven-tenths of a mile from the Chemours plant near the Bladen-Cumberland county line.

Donovan said she’s disappointed that DEQ and state legislators have made little to no progress in regulating PFAS. This year, DEQ had an opportunity to set maximum thresholds for some types of PFAS in surface water as part of its triennial review process, but chose not to, citing a lack of information, as required by state law, to calculate the standards. The EPA requires states and tribes to review its surface water standards at least once every three years.

The NC PFAS Testing Network, part of the NC Policy Collaboratory, has received more than $7.1 million from the General Assembly to study the prevalence of the compounds and to make further recommendations to lawmakers and DEQ on controlling and eliminating them in drinking water and surface water. However, despite voluminous data collected by the network and by DEQ, the state legislature has passed no meaningful legislation regarding PFAS.

“There’s a lot of meaningful information that the General Assembly has never acted on,” Donovan said.


Lotteries did not encourage COVID-19 vaccinations, new study finds

Despite the vaccine lottery, North Carolina’s overall vaccination rate remains below the national average.

The chance to win $1 million did not lead to increased vaccination rates against COVID-19, according to a new study published Friday that examined the states that held vaccine lotteries earlier this year.

There was a “near zero” association between those cash drawings and additional vaccinations in states like Colorado, which held five drawings among vaccinated individuals, and North Carolina, which held four.

We were really excited when we saw these policies come out and were really hopeful that they were going to be effective, and they just turned out not to be,” Andrew Friedson, an associate economics professor at University of Colorado Denver and one of the authors of the study, told Colorado Newsline.

Dhaval Dave, Benjamin Hansen and Joseph J. Sabia co-authored the study.

Friedson and his team examined vaccination rates before and after the announcement of a lottery in 19 states, and then compared those rates to those in non-lottery states. They discovered little to no association between the lottery announcement and the number of vaccines administered after that announcement date, indicating that the lottery strategy was ineffective.

Ohio was the first state to announce its “Vax-a-Million” lottery on May 12, and other states quickly followed suit.

The states included in the study were Arkansas, Colorado, California, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Washington and West Virginia.

The lotteries were incentive programs designed to get states to a high enough vaccination rate to achieve herd immunity, or around 70%. It seems, however, that they had little effect in convincing people to get vaccinated. State data shows a leveling out of the vaccine rate following the lottery announcement, not the intended uptick.

Colorado spent $5 million in federal COVID-19 relief money for the five cash drawings. North Carolina awarded four $1 million first prizes and three $125,000 scholarships.

“Any dollar that you spend on something that doesn’t work is a dollar that you could have been spending on something that does,” Friedson said. “So this is, across all the different states, tens of millions of dollars that we could have been spending on potentially more effective policies.”

Friedson said this study is important to inform future decision making for public health officials.

“We see a policy that seems really exciting,” Friedson said. “Step one is to find out if it works. If it doesn’t work, step two is to find out why and find out what we can do instead that might work better.” Read more

Booster shot of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine recommended by FDA panel