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.
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