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PFAS and climate change, mining, and hazardous waste: 2022 is another critical year in North Carolina for the environment.

PFAS and climate change, mining, and hazardous waste: 2022 is another critical year in North Carolina for the environment.

PFAS, climate change, mining and hazardous waste: 2022 will be another critical year for the environment in North Carolina

Kathie Dello, state climatologist, posted the unprecedented temperatures of Jan. 1 on Twitter.

On the first day of 2022, the neighbors’ air conditioners were running. Raleigh-Durham International Airport recorded a temperature of 78 degrees. The heat index was even higher at 1:51 pm. A heat index. In January.

This was a redux from December 2021, which was the third-warmest December at RDU/Fayetteville since records were kept. It also happened to be the second-warmest at Greensboro station.

Although not all meteorological blips can be attributed directly to climate change, the patterns are clear. The weather is becoming more unpredictable, wilder, and often more destructive.

A drought in North Carolina caused dozens of wildfires last year, including one that raged over Pilot Mountain, which burned 1,000 acres. The drought continues: All 100 North Carolina counties were declared indigent as of Dec. 28, 2021. Some stage of droughtHalf of them are classified as severe. (Today’s torrential rains will likely change the drought status for several counties; a new report comes out every Wednesday.)

The most pressing environmental problem of 2022 will be climate change and its consequences. This is not only in North Carolina but worldwide. The only way to address the existential threat to humanity is to overcome political resistance and inertia. The state’s Clean Energy Plan, while ambitious, still falls short.  While it is admirable to turn off the lights at night in state buildings is a good idea, it fails to hold corporations responsible for their significant role in the crisis. The plan focuses on reducing and eliminating carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants — laudable — but it doesn’t fully address methane emissions from natural gas and biogas.

North Carolina faces many environmental crises. The growth of the mining sector, which is subject to anemic regulations that are only matched by those governing poultry, which have virtually no regulations. Air pollution, hazardous waste, environmental justice. All of it, but all but ignored by state legislators.

That’s where regular North Carolinians come in: MonitoringReporting, complaining and protecting their communities, their futures.

Here are four important environmental issues to be aware of in 2022. This list will continue to grow as the year progresses.

PFAS and GenX, Chemours, as well as the snail-like pace of regulation

This spring the EPA plans to announce a new — and much more stringent — health advisory goal for GenX, a type of PFAS, or perfluorinated/ poly-alkylfluorinated compound. That’s the Good news. Chemours will likely be required for additional water supplies to well owners whose drinking waters have been contaminated by the company.

The Bad news is a health advisory goal is not legally enforceable, and setting one — known as a maximum contaminant threshold — for GenX and two other types of PFAS will take several years. More bad news: There are 5,000-plus types of PFAS, and unless the EPA regulates them as a class, doing so individually will take, well we’ll all be pushing up daisies by the time that happens.

Dec. 28: The EPA announced that it would grant a petition by six environmental groups from southeastern North Carolina. They had asked for toxicity testing of 54 types PFAS. The EPA’s announcement, though, was a half-truth.The agency will require Chemours not to test more than nine PFAS. However, the toxicity of about two-dozen others can be extrapolated from existing studies. The EPA indicated that nine more PFAS may be tested in the future and that 15 did not meet the criteria.

Environmental groups were outraged, noting that the agency’s proposal fell far short of the petition’s requests. Dana Sargent of Cape Fear River Watch posted on Twitter: “As the director of an environmental nonprofit who trusted the folks of this EPA to do the right thing, I am furious. As a poisoned community member grieving the loss of a firefighter brother whose cancer could be explained by this data, I am heartbroken.”

Chemours has other news. The company is taking to court the NC Department of Environmental Quality over a $300,000.00 fine the agency assessed it for its air pollution. The hearing in the contested case before an administrative judge has not been set.








Biogas, wood pellets and biogas are fuel for the climate change fire. 

Montauk Renewables representatives spoke with residents of Turkey in Sampson County about a proposed facility that would convert hog waste and other organic material, such as sawgrass, into beneficial products. This facility would not emit any air pollution or wastewater discharge. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

Turkey is found in Sampson County. Montauk Renewable Energy plans to haul hog waste from area lagoons (likely in a vacuum truck to avoid potentially slickening Highway 24 with manure from semis) to a former furniture factory on the town’s west side. There tons of waste would be processed through a closed-loop system to turn manure into compost and other beneficial materials — allegedly without producing harmful emissions.

At a public meeting last month, Joe Carroll and Martin Redeker, the latter of whom invented the technology, explained the process, and brought jars of compost and processed hog manure to prove the materials didn’t smell. (It didn’t.) The company has a small test facility in Magnolia that transforms hog waste into electricity. Four County electric cooperative has a substation nearby. If it gets all the permits required, the Turkey site could still produce biogas to power the building. At this time, there is no major pipeline infrastructure.

Residents of TurkeyThey are concerned about possible odors, flies, traffic and the fact that the town will be sandwiched between two hog-waste/biogas facilities. A couple of miles east on Highway 24, Align RNG, a partnership between Smithfield Foods and Dominion Energy, will collect biogas from at last count, 15 (as yet mostly unidentified) hog farms outfitted with digesters on their lagoons. New pipelines will transport the gas from the lagoons to Sampson and Duplin. Align RNG facility, and then injected into a conventional natural-gas pipeline.

Opponents to the Align RNG project argue that 1) it puts the state on track for natural gas infrastructure and 2) it consolidates the outdated system of disposing of waste at lagoons. The smelly remains of waste are still kept in open pits and sprayed onto fields. This can cause water quality problems and contaminate drinking waters wells.

Enviva’s four wood pellet plants — in predominantly Black and Latinx communities in Hertford, Northampton, Sampson and Richmond counties — continue to burn North Carolina trees to burn for fuel in Europe. The wood pellet industry not only contributes to carbon emissions but also the timbering used for fuel removes natural flood protection. But Active Energy’sLumberton, Robeson County: A wood pellet plant is proposed It seems like everything is broken.. The company received a Notice from DEQ in May 2021, even though the plant was not yet operational. Its engineers modified the production process without notifying DEQ. This would have increased harmful air emission. Active Energy temporarily relocated to Maine after its CoalSwitch technology failed. The company’s shares, which are traded on the London Stock Exchange have fallen 54% since October. Investors are complaining about unfulfilled promises. Meanwhile, Lumberton residents, many of them members of the Lumbee tribe, are relieved that their community won’t be burdened with more air pollution.

Mining and mystery drilling

Hundreds of people attended the Gastonia public hearing, most of whom were opposed to a proposed lithium mine in Cherryville. (Photos: Lisa Sorg)

Proposed DEQ decisions are one of the most anticipated for 2022.Behemoth lithium mineNear Cherryville, Gaston County. Many residents opposed the 1,500-acre mine at a November public hearing, fearing contamination of groundwater or private drinking water wells.

Piedmont LithiumThe mine’s owner, Xerox, has partnered with Tesla to supply the critical element for electric car battery batteries. Unlike vehicles that run on fossil fuels, electric cars don’t emit pollutants from their tailpipes — pollutants that contribute to climate change.

Extractive industries like mining still have a negative impact on the environment. New technologies could provide companies with less damaging ways to get at the lithium, but miners must learn from their coal and petroleum counterparts, whose practices — mountaintop removal, oil spills — have destroyed neighborhoods and shorelines, harmed public health and decimated ecosystems.

DEQ will announce its decision before spring, but Gaston County officials will likely weigh in. The courts are still available to delay the permit for opponents.

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Fire burning sugar cane fields

Residents of Hamptonville, Yadkin CountyCould you know the? The mystery drilling results that’s been happening on 700 acres of farmland since last spring. Residents — 44 of them adjoining the land — are concerned drilling could threaten their drinking water wells. Jack Martin of Synergy Materials has refused to disclose what he’s found or even what he’s looking for, but told Policy Watch and neighbors that once his investigation is complete, possibly this month, he’ll host a public meeting to unveil his plan. Granite? Silica? Lithium? Fracking?  Former State Rep. Wilma Herrill owns the property, but Synergy can purchase it.

DEQ announced that it had granted a holiday break shortly before the holiday break.  To obtain controversial mining permits Carolina SunrockFor its Prospect Hill, 426-acre operationIn the southeast Caswell County. The mine, which is in operation since 2019, has sever the county. zoning referendumThe election was narrowly unsuccessful. Consequently, Bob Hall, former director at Democracy North Carolina, filed a complaint over allegations of Illegal political advertising

In what appears. an intimidation tactic, Carolina Sunrock sued 55 peopleover their objections towards the mine and associated asphalt plant in Prospect Hill and Black community of Anderson Township. Carolina Sunrock was represented by Bill Brian, a Durham attorney. Carolina Sunrock even subpoenaed the private emails of Leslie Winner (one of those who opposed the mine).

Residents are still undecided about whether they want to challenge the permit before an administrative judge. 

The state Mining Act favors industry — Martin Marietta wrote the law — but it is possible to secure additional environmental protections. Snow Camp residents recently wonIn settlement that arose from a contested case against DEQ, DEQ and another mining company received concessions. An administrative law judge ruled that DEQ had erred by authorizing a buffer request to a Wake Stone quarry near Umstead State Park. Their mining operation requires a bridgeOver the sensitive Crabtree Creek

Are there any progress or stalemates in critical cleanups?

The Superfund site, which includes the Jacksonville’s former ABC One Hour Cleaners site, has been there for 33 years. A cleanup will be funded by money from the federal law on infrastructure. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

Huntersville is now in Year 2 of the aftermath Colonial Pipeline disasterAt least 1.3 million gallons gasoline were sprayed in a residential area, including the Oehler Natural Preserve. The cleanup is far from complete and will likely take at most a decade. 

The pipeline ruptured and a portion of it leaked onto the ground. The extent of the environmental damage — especially to the groundwater — is still unknown. DEQ has cited ColonialFor failing to provide a complete accounting of the spillage, the worst such onshore accident since at most 1991. It’s not even clear PFAS: Why was it created?In runoff from the spillage site and in water containing water containing fire suppressant. This material was advertised as PFAS free.

DEQ petitioned for a restraining order in October Superior Court judge in Mecklenburg CountyColonial was required to provide this information, but the agency has yet fine Colonial for its shortcomings. This could be the Year.

The Tarheel Arm Missile Plant, located at 204 N. Graham Hopedale Road, East Burlington. (Archival photo by DEQ).

If you consider the time it takes to clean up, two years seems a bit too long. Former Tarheel Army Missile PlantBurlington is in year 30. Yes, East Burlington, a predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhood, has been waiting for 30 years for a solution. Contamination on the 22-acre property

The U.S. Army, which takes responsibilityThe DEQ filed another environmental assessment last year to clean up groundwater contamination. However, this has not resulted in any action. Groundwater contaminated by cancer-causing solvents continues its seepage into the groundwater and into the stream that eventually feeds the Haw River.

Aboveground, David Tsui, the property owner is responsible for removing and containing contamination in the more than a dozen buildings. According to DEQ documents, he plans renovate the uncontaminated buildings. One of these buildings will be used as office space while two others will serve as storage. These renovations were initiated last fall. However the renovations of contaminated buildings that border private residences are not on his list.

The community needs answers. Indoor air testing is also needed to verify that the solvents are not entering private homes. It is not fair to wait 30 years. DEQ, Army and other agencies must act before Year 31. 

A more positive note is the new federal legislation on infrastructure. Funding for cleanups that are not moving forward beginning this year at 49 Superfund sites, including four in North Carolina. Policy Watch reported on one of them. February 2020, ABC One-Hour Cleaners near Camp Lejeune.

The former dry cleaners are now inYear 33 of being on Superfund ListIt is home to some the most polluted and toxic areas in the country. The cleanup of solvents in groundwater should be almost complete after spending $1 million in taxpayer funds. The cleanup failed because of contractual disputes and recalcitrant business owners. The plume of contaminated water has grown and now threatens Northeast Creek, New River. The new cleanup will cost $3.34 million and will only include soil, not groundwater. Once the system is built — about a two-month project — the EPA projects it will take two years to reach clean up goals for the soil.

Funding will also be available for three additional Superfund projects:

  • The 15-acre Hemphill Road TCEIte, located in south Gastonia was placed on the Superfund List in 2013 after the business had contaminated private drinking waters wells with hazardous solvents. Although these households have now access to alternative water supplies, the groundwater contamination continues.
  • Yadkinville is home to the 80-acre Yadkinville Holcomb Creosote SiteSince 2012, the Superfund List has included this company. The soil, sediment, and on-site structures were contaminated by the wood-treating industry.
  • Ram Leather CareSince 2003, Charlotte has been a Superfund-listed location. It also houses a dry cleaning and leather restoration business. Although many households were connected in 2008 to the public water system, there is a risk of hazardous vapors from contaminated groundwater or soil entering nearby buildings.

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