5 Obstacles to Clean Water in North Carolina
Communities from Murphy to Manteo deserve clean water to drink, dive into, and fish in. When it comes to protecting public health and ensuring that our families and friends have access to clean water, there are currently five top concerns in North Carolina. Our state legislators have an important role in deciding who is protected: people, or polluters?
1. Industrial chemical pollution
In 2017, GenX was detected in the Cape Fear River, which provides drinking water to over 300,000 people downstream. This industrial chemical compound is used in the manufacture of non-stick pans, waterproof fabrics, and other products yet is harmful to people and fish. Although the levels of GenX in drinking water in the Cape Fear have fallen, other potentially harmful industrial chemicals are being discovered in streams throughout North Carolina.
2. Stripping protections
For nearly a decade, the North Carolina General Assembly has systematically dismantled some of the longstanding, sensible policies that make our state a great place to live, visit, and do business. Some of the attacks include the following: slashing the budget of the agency responsible for protecting clean air and clean water by almost 40%; gutting state environmental boards and replacing many scientific, health, and nonprofit members with industry and political appointees; reducing by half the acreage of land acquired by the N.C. State Parks System; and prohibiting any state environmental protections that are more stringent than federal laws.
3. Opening our coast to drilling
Nearly 300 coastal communities in our region have spoken out against the dangerous and destructive practice of offshore drilling—and 24 coastal beach towns, cities, and counties in North Carolina have joined them in making clear that drilling off the state’s coast is not worth the risk. The environmental impacts of offshore drilling and onshore infrastructure are well known, and they include major spills, leaks, and explosions. Visitors to North Carolina’s coastal region spent $3.6 billion and the coastal tourism industry supported 33,180 jobs in 2018. Both figures can expect to take a dramatic hit if our coast is opened up to drilling.
4. Defunding environmental enforcement
In addition to stripping some of North Carolina’s most critical environmental protections, our leaders cut funding to the state’s pollution control agencies. This is despite the major pollution threats we face from flooding, large concentrations of industrial hog and poultry operations, industrial chemicals, coal ash pits, and more. According to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project, the 34% reduction in funding for the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality from 2008-2018 was among the most extreme in the nation.
5. Pollution from industrial animal operations
North Carolina is currently home to thousands of industrial animal operations, sometimes known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs. Industrial hog operations raise more than 10 million hogs, mostly in North Carolina’s low-lying, flood-prone coastal plain. These facilities continue to use a primitive lagoon-and-sprayfield system—where large volumes of hog feces and urine are stored in open air, unlined lagoons, and subsequently sprayed on nearby fields. Poultry facilities raise hundreds of millions of chickens and turkeys in the coastal plain of North Carolina and farther west. These facilities use an equally unsophisticated waste management system—chicken and turkey feces are stored in massive uncovered piles along the banks of waterways. Despite the well-documented pollution and devastating impacts these industrial operations have on communities and water, North Carolina has done little to address the problems.
We are thankful for the state senators who sponsored bills to protect our communities’ water.
Ban PFAS in Firefighting Foam, S655, sponsored by Senators Garrett, Robinson and deViere and co-sponsored by Senators Marcus, Mohammed, Peterson, Smith, and Van Duyn, would have prohibited discharging or otherwise using class B firefighting foam that contains intentionally added PFAS chemicals for training purposes. It would have also prohibited a manufacturer of class B firefighting foam from manufacturing, knowingly selling, offering for sale, distributing for sale, or distributing for use in this State class B firefighting foam to which PFAS chemicals have been intentionally added. These measures would be a good first step to keep PFAS out of North Carolina waters.
Offshore Drilling, S517, sponsored by Senator Peterson and co-sponsored by Senators Clark, deViere, Foushee, Garrett, Lowe, Marcus, Mohammed, Nickel, Robinson, Searcy, and Waddell, would have prohibited the exploration, development, and production of offshore oil and gas in North Carolina coastal waters in order to protect military operations, commercial and recreational fishing, and tourism.
Broad PFAS bill, S518, sponsored by Senators Peterson, deViere, and McKissick and co-sponsored by Senators Marcus, Mohammed, Sawyer, and Smith would have directed DEQ to establish a PFAS task force charged with: identifying and analyzing all PFAS in the lower Cape Fear basin and its tributaries; identifying all responsible parties; and developing and implementing a biomonitoring program. The bill also would have established a “maximum allowable standard” for all PFAS. In addition, the bill would have repealed the Hardison Amendment, strengthened requirements for the provision of water to households with contaminated wells, and allocated $270 million from the state Savings Reserve to pay for water filtration systems for affected parties.
Clean Energy bill, S513, sponsored by Senators Nickel, Garrett, and Van Duyn, and co-sponsored by Senators deViere, Foushee, Mohammed, Searcy, and Smith would have established a state goal of 100 percent of retail sales of electricity in North Carolina generated from renewable sources by 2050. The bill would have directed the State Energy Office, in consultation with the NC Utilities Commission and the Public Staff, to develop a plan to achieve the goal and to submit that plan to the 2020 regular session of the 2019 General Assembly upon convening.
Study GenX Health Impacts, S745, sponsored by Senators deViere, Murdock and Peterson and co-sponsored by Senators Fitch, Foushee, J. Jackson, Lowe, Marcus, Mohammed, Nickel, Robinson, Smith and Van Duyn would provide $100,000 from the General Fund to DHHS to implement a biomonitoring health study in consultation with DEQ, to identify and measure concentrations of toxic chemicals in the population groups within the PFAS Study Area exposed to PFAS chemicals to establish foundational baseline data to support future epidemiological and public health studies and to assess the effectiveness of public health efforts and regulatory programs to decrease exposure to specific toxic chemicals.
RO filling stations for New Hanover County Schools, S749, sponsored by Senator Peterson would reallocate $600,000 from funds appropriated to DPI to New Hanover County Schools for the 2020-2021 fiscal year to install no more than 10 reverse osmosis water filtration filling stations in every school in New Hanover County Schools for the purpose of ameliorating drinking water contamination from per-fluoroalkyl and poly-fluoroalkyl substances.
PFAS Contamination Mitigation Measures, S837, sponsored by Senators Garrett, Peterson and Woodard and co-sponsored by Senators deViere, Fitch, Foushee, Marcus, Murdock, Robinson, Searcy and Smith, would require dischargers to disclose all pollutants that they expect to discharge, including PFAS, when they apply for a water quality permit or permit renewal; require industries to disclose what they are discharging into local sewer systems; direct DEQ to require dischargers to remove PFAS from their wastes before discharge; require industries to stop releasing PFAS into local sewer systems where wastewater treatment plants cannot remove PFAS; and direct DEQ to study the presence of PFAS in sewage sludge. Additionally, this bill appropriates: $5 million in one-time funds for treatment systems for contaminated private and community wells, in the Bernard Allen Fund; $5 million in recurring funds for ambient water quality monitoring by DEQ to identify emerging and other pollutants upstream from drinking water intakes; $1 million in one-time funds to develop a strategy for persistent toxic chemicals, starting with a PFAS Chemical Action Plan; $1 million in one-time funds to study safe PFAS destruction and disposal techniques and report back to the Environmental Management Commission and the state legislature; and $80 million in one-time funds to match local utility expenditures on drinking water treatment systems to reduce public exposure to PFAS.
PFAS Studies, S838, sponsored by Senators Garrett, Peterson and Woodard, and co-sponsored by Senators deViere, Fitch, J.Jackson, Marcus, Murdock, Robinson, Searcy and Smith, would appropriate $600K for eight studies of various aspects of PFAS: historic human health and ecological risk and impacts; an inventory of current releases; assessment of ongoing risks and future costs; and studies by the legislative Environmental Review Commission of notification requirements and green chemistry policies.
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