EPA notifies three NC facilities they could be required to report use of cancer-causing chemical that’s emitted into the air

Sterigenics, represented by the purple cross on this map, is within one mile of Winget Park Elementary School. (Map: EPA EJ Screening Tool)

Three facilities in North Carolina could be required to report their use of a cancer-causing chemical to the EPA, the agency announced yesterday.

Andersen Products in Haw River, Andersen Scientific in Morrisville, and Sterigenics in Charlotte are among 31 facilities nationwide that the EPA is considering to require reports on their usage of ethylene oxide, a hazardous air pollutant. Data about emissions and usage would be reported to the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory. Also known as TRI, this is a public database of facilities, the chemicals the use, their emissions and discharges to the environment, and other information.

Some of these facilities, including Sterigenics, are also being considered for ethylene glycol reporting.

Ethylene oxide is a flammable, colorless gas used to make other chemicals that are used in making a range of products, including antifreeze, textiles, plastics, detergents and adhesives. Ethylene oxide also is used to sterilize equipment and plastic devices that cannot be sterilized by steam, such as medical equipment.

Long-term exposure to ethylene oxide has been linked to lymphatic cancer and breast cancer. It can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs, and harm the brain and nervous system, causing effects such as headaches, memory loss and numbness, according to the EPA.

In 2018, a Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook, Ill., was found to have emitted large amounts of the ethylene oxide into the air. The emissions drifted over a neighborhood and a high school; the EPA found that residents within a mile and a half of the plant had up to 10 times a greater risk of developing cancer. Six workers at the high school, just a mile away, developed either breast cancer or lymphoma.

The company subsequently closed the plant.

The EPA’s recent action to select additional sterilization facilities for monitoring and reporting is based on their usage of ethylene oxide, the agency said, upward of 10,000 pounds — or 5 tons per year.

The EPA also selected these facilities based on other factors, including their proximity to highly populated areas, their history of releases of ethylene oxide and ethylene glycol, and other factors the Administrator Michael Regan determined were appropriate, such as the location of nearby schools and communities, especially those with potential environmental justice concerns.

In Charlotte, the Sterigenics plant is in an industrial park on the city’s southwest side, at 18021 Withers Cove Park Drive. The plant previously reported it released 850 pounds of ethylene oxide emissions to the TRI in 2016. Sterigenics has not reported emissions since, because, the EPA said, the facility may have determined it was not legally obligated to continue reporting to TRI after that time.

According to the EPA’s Environmental Justice Screening tool, 5,572 people live within a mile of the plant, two-thirds of them persons of color. Winget Park Elementary School is a mile away.

Andersen Products in Haw River, represented by the purple cross. (Map: EJ Screening Tool)

Andersen Products, 3154 Caroline Drive in Haw River, is in a more sparsely populated area that is predominantly white, although a portion of the one-mile radius lies within Occaneechi-Saponi tribal lands; 38% of the households are low-income.

 

The one-mile radius of Andersen Scientific, near RDU International Airport, extends into Lake Crabtree County Park. (Map: EPA EJ Screening Tool)

Andersen Scientific, 1001 Aviation Parkway, is near the Raleigh-Durham International Airport. However, of the 226 people who live within a mile of the facility, 60% are individuals of color, including many of Asian descent.

The facilities have 30 days to respond to EPA with information that the agency could use to weigh its decision. The EPA said it intends to notify these facilities of its final decision following the 30-day response period; the agency will then issue an order about the reporting and monitoring requirements.

Biden to nominate NC’s Hooks for FEMA deputy

Sec. Erik Hooks

President Joe Biden will nominate Erik Hooks, state Public Safety secretary, to be FEMA’s deputy administrator, the White House announced Tuesday.

Hooks has led Public Safety, which includes the prison system, juvenile justice, the state Highway Patrol, the NC National Guard, and emergency management, since Gov. Roy Cooper’s first term. Public Safety is the state’s largest department.

Hooks was a familiar face at hurricane and COVID-19 news conferences. He announced his retirement earlier this month, to be effective Aug. 1.

Civil rights groups sued Cooper and Hooks last year for the release of incarcerated people vulnerable to COVID-19, NC Policy Watch reported.  In a settlement last February, the state agreed to release 3,500 people early.

Hooks would be the second member of Cooper’s cabinet to join the Biden administration. EPA Administrator Michael Regan was the state’s secretary of Environmental Quality.

Hooks received bachelor and master’s degrees from NC State University. Before he was appointed to run Public Safety, he worked at the State Bureau of Investigation.

U.S. House to vote next week on expanding PFAS regulation, backers say

Who derailed Dionne Delli-Gatti’s confirmation as DEQ Secretary? No one wants to own it.

Dionne Delli-Gatti at her legislative committee confirmation hearing on April 27. (Screenshot from livestream)

Dionne Delli-Gatti waited outside the gallery entrance of the Senate Chamber Thursday afternoon to learn whether she would still have a job by the end of the day. 

She carried a keychain that her 8-year-old son had given her earlier this year after Gov. Roy Cooper nominated her to lead the NC Department of Environmental Quality, one of the state’s most complex agencies. 

The keychain read “No. 1 Secretary.”

But her position as the first woman to lead the department was in doubt. On Wednesday, the Senate Agriculture, Energy and Environment committee had voted down her nomination, a move without modern precedent. Since 2016, when Republican legislators passed a law requiring the Senate to confirm the governor’s nominees, the chamber has done so for 16 consecutive cabinet-level positions — until now.

At both that committee hearing and during Thursday’s Senate floor debate, Republican Sens. Paul Newton and Chuck Edwards led the charge against her nomination. They claimed Delli-Gatti was “disqualified” because she “couldn’t articulate the governor’s energy policy” and wasn’t familiar with the details of the MVP Southgate natural gas pipeline project. 

To Democratic lawmakers, that felt like a stretch.

“I urge you to reject this disingenuous process and stand up for what is right,” said Sen. DeAndrea Salvador, a Mecklenburg County Democrat during the full Senate debate. “Ousting a qualified woman from a position she already holds — something else is going on. It doesn’t add up.”

Why Delli-Gatti attracted the ire of the Republican leadership is unknown. Her initial confirmation hearing happened on April 27, and there were no followup meetings. Senate Democrats have said publicly they were blindsided by the news that Delli-Gatti’s confirmation was in doubt.

Two weeks ago, the Senate Energy Committee, with Newton again running the show, received testimony from Duke Energy, Dominion Energy and the American Petroleum Institute about what they view as North Carolina’s need for more natural gas pipelines. Transco is the main provider but if a cyberattack or other disaster should shut down that line, it could create an energy emergency in North Carolina, they testified.

Oddly, Delli-Gatti “wasn’t invited to participate” in that hearing, as Sen. Michael Garrett, a Guilford County Democrat pointed out during the Senate debate.

“When you vote today you are voting to fire a female veteran and the first woman to lead this department and by all standards is eminently qualified,” Garrett said.

And the reason Delli-Gatti didn’t “articulate the governor’s energy position,” said Sen. Julie Mayfield, a Buncombe County Democrat, is because Cooper has not articulated it himself.

“If the governor has not expressed a position on natural gas, is it fair to expect her to know what that position is, given that it doesn’t exist?” Mayfield said.

Chief Deputy Secretary John Nicholson is the new interim secretary for the NC Department of Environmental Quality.

Over the last day, Democrats have engaged in amateur sleuthing to flush out who had tanked the governor’s choice. Shortly after Wednesday’s committee vote recommending against her confirmation, Duke Energy released a statement supporting Delli-Gatti. By evening, Dominion Energy had done the same. 

Legislative sources told Policy Watch that the NC Chamber of Commerce, Smithfield Foods and the NC Pork Council were not responsible for the confirmation derailment.

That left few options: Either another powerful natural gas company put its invisible finger on the scale or Sen. Newton and several of his colleagues had gone rogue, as one source told Policy Watch, “to send a message.”

Theresa Kostrzewa, a lobbyist for EquiTrans Midstream, a major partner in the MVP Southgate project, told Policy Watch that the company did not oppose the nomination. “They were shocked,” Kostrzewa said of her clients. (She also represents Smithfield Foods; the company did not oppose the nomination, either, she said.) Read more

As NC lawmakers fast-track legislation prohibiting ransomware payments, federal officials focus on pipeline shutdown, future attacks

If you have waited in line this week to buy gas for your vehicle, you should be familiar with how damaging a ransomware threat can be.

In the case of Colonial Pipeline, a weekend ransomware attack forced the company to shutdown its pipeline sparking panic-buying and concerns about future cyberattacks.

House Bill 813 introduced earlier this month would prohibit any state agency or local government from communicating with or submitting a payment to an entity that has engaged in a cybersecurity threat.

Rep. Harry Warren said the bill sponsored by Rep. Jason Saine was right on the mark.

(Saine’s home county faced a ransomeware attack in 2019 that took the sheriff’s office website offline.)

Rep. George Cleveland (R-Onslow)

“It also clarifies consulting and reporting requirements to the Department of Information Technology. It’s very timely,” said Warren (R-Rowan) in presenting the bill.

Rep. George Cleveland (R-Onslow) questioned whether the bill should include additional requirements.

“Something that struck me with our present problem with the fuel was that Colonial Pipeline never reported anything to the feds,” Cleveland said. “Would it be appropriate or beneficial to indicate in the bill that the feds should be notified of any cybersecurity problems?”

Legislative staff said private industry were encouraged to do that but not required.

House Bill 813 quickly passed the State Government and House Rules committees Wednesday, moving on to the full House.

In Washington, D.C., Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and EPA Administrator Michael Regan also addressed the current cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline.

Sec. Buttigieg said the Biden administration is actively working to reduce the impact of the gas shortage.

Waivers and emergency declarations will be used to help move fuel more easily to where it is needed.

“Ten states can use existing federal disaster declarations that are currently in place to issue permits that allow drivers to temporarily carry additional gasoline that would ordinarily exceed existing weight limits on federal highways in their states,” said Buttigieg. “This decision provides them with the added flexibility to move fuel more efficiently.”

EPA Administrator Michael Regan

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said additional waivers from his agency will allow reformulated gasoline to be used in 12 states to ease the supply shortage.

Regan, a North Carolina native, also urged the public to do their part to ease the gas crunch.

“The folks should follow the advice of the governors and attorneys general. They are asking folks not to panic, not to hoard gasoline, and to watch for updates. We’re working very hard to alleviate these circumstances,” said Regan.

Colonial Pipeline, that delivers roughly 45% of the gas to the East Coast, announced late Wednesday that it had restarted the pipeline and supply would improve in the coming days.

Buttigieg said the nation must invest in infrastructure resiliency that can withstand future cyber threats.

“This is not an extra, this is not a luxury, this is option. This has to be core to how we secure our critical infrastructure and that includes infrastructure that is not owned and operated by the federal government.”