• ACT Against Coal Ash: We Want Answers

    Watch the Livestream! Press Release 828 Martin Luther King Boulevard is the location of a police station and 60,000 cubic yards of coal ash waste in Chapel Hill. The Town acquired the property after coal ash waste was already deposited, and discovered it in 2013.The Town’s plans for remediation uses the cap and contain approach, which includes some ash removal and off site disposal, capping with 3-4 ft of clean soil, a retaining wall and restricted use of groundwater.   In May, the Town hosted a meeting which included town staff, environmental consultants, and DEQ’s Brownfields program, where the town promised to answer questions from the public. 73 members of the public, which included neighbors, local and statewide coalitions of coal ash-impacted community members, and clean water and air advocates, were allotted only 30 minutes to address these concerns and questions. Some answers were given during the meeting, while other questions would require additional research and consultation, but all were promised to be given written responses what would be posted on the Town of Chapel Hill’s Website.    We waited SEVENTY days for the Town and DEQ to post these responses, and even when they were posted, less than half the questions were answered and many were essentially evaded, overgeneralized, or pushed to future decisions in later stages of the project. The ACT group asked 34 questions. Only a couple were answered during the meeting, and none on the response document. These included questions about housing considerations, public participation, coal ash clean up and management procedures and worker protections, and reporting and monitoring.   In September, the Town posted a status update which considers a phased approach where “Under this plan, the Town would begin moving ahead with site remediation and construction of the MSC now with steps taken to allow for future development (commercial, office, or housing) on the remainder of the site at a later time.” (Status Update Town of Chapel Hill). However, the Town has yet to discuss this during a Public Regular Council meeting and answer questions we’ve been asking for FIVE months now.   Our questions and concerns remain: How will the Town ensure that this proposed development does not result in disproportionate health impacts to low-income and BIPOC community members near the site or the landfill that receives coal ash? Has the Town researched options for encapsulating coal ash and storing on site? What other options have been researched aside from cap-in-place or full excavation? Excavated coal ash from the site has been sent to Uwharrie landfill - how is this landfill set up to handle coal ash specifically to prevent air and water contamination? What types of monitoring will take place during and after construction of this project? How frequently, and how long will monitoring occur? At what stages of decision-making on this project will the public be given the opportunity to comment?   “I grew up in a rural, coal ash frontline community that is spread far from the landfills and the power plant. However Chapel Hill is a densely populated area with the landfills and power plant nestled in the midst of neighborhoods. This close proximity needs to be addressed. By putting people in harms way at the 828 MLK Location, either through housing, a work environment, or recreation of the proposed gathering place, the Town is placing an unfair burden on individuals, parents, and the greater community who serves the citizens of Chapel Hill: the health care system, teachers, police officers who risk personal exposure at work and will have to address the needs of individuals dealing with related mental health issues.” Caroline Armijo   “The town has a chance to deal with the problem in an ethical manner that respects the nearby community, and protects the health of the community. With coal ash, and the many toxic components, the usual solutions are: 1. Sweep the problem under the rug and bury or simply cap the ash. 2. Ship the problem away and dump the coal ash on another community - usually one that is low income and/or disproportionately composed of people of color. With the coal ash that has been currently been excavated from the police station grounds, unfortunately Chapel Hill has chosen to ship the ash away with little concern for the environmental and engineering designs of the new dump site. We want to raise several questions about the Uwharrie Landfill which was selected for receiving the coal ash. Since coal ash is a "non-asbestos" material, has the town ensured that the coal ash will not be spread daily on top of the Uwharrie landfill? Did the town take any steps to require that the coal ash be deposited in the lined portion? Is Chapel Hill willing to transfer its problem and just do the minimal coal ash dump transfer without taking any of these protective measures?  Has the town ever investigated the options for on-site complete encapsulation or using above-ground salt-stone technologies to solidify and protect the coal ash on-site?  Please use science, community involvement, and transparency in your on-going deliberations about how to resolve the coal ash problems.” John Wagner    “Though the Chapel Hill Town Council directs the public to its website for information about coal ash, and though we are invited to make comments on that site, I am concerned that the general public finds it too inaccessible, and the Council needs to have public forums regarding this very serious issue.” Lib Hutchby   “Despite there being no examples of successful residential redevelopment projects constructed on coal ash sites, the town has failed to answer questions related to reporting and monitoring of the site both related to human health assessments and water quality concerns.  In considering health concerns, during the Public Meeting with DEQ on May 16th, when asked if the town or DEQ has investigated the cancer rates of the current and historical occupants of 828 MLK, DEQ responded that they were not aware of such an investigation, and that that investigation would fall under NC Department of Health and Human Services and that they had not been in contact with that department. Further, according to consultants, higher concentrations of metals were identified in some perched water zones where coal ash is present in the fill. However, we ask that if this site is not excavated and no lining is installed under the site, we ask what would prevent toxins at the site from entering Bolin Creek and traveling to Jordan Lake to contaminate that drinking water source? How would a retaining wall prevent infiltration? We asked these questions and voiced these concerns during the public meeting and are still waiting for answers.” Christine Diaz   “As a resident of Chapel Hill -- a voter and a taxpayer -- I expect the elected officials and institutions in my community to be open and transparent in their pursuit of our community's safety, health, and well-being. Too few of my neighbors and friends even know about the fact that coal ash is exposed on popular public greenways like Bolin Creek -- let alone that the town is considering development that could threaten more workers, families, and children. Experts and scientists much smarter and better informed than I am have outlined grave concerns about the Town's plans; they have posed some urgent questions to the Town; and every person in our community is entitled to adequate, prompt responses in forums and platforms that are accessible to everyone. To date, the Town has failed to comply with its basic obligations with regard to the coal ash threats in our community." Isabel Geffner   We ask for the Town to respond to urgent concerns and questions before moving forward with this remediation and redevelopment to protect the health and safety of neighbors and community members who are or will be impacted by the coal ash at 828 Martin Luther King Blvd.   Alliance of Carolinians Together (ACT) Against Coal Ash


    Continue reading
  • Check out Clean Currents Fall & Winter 2022!

    Our latest Clean Currents newsletter is available to read! Check out one of the articles below. Read Clean Currents Fall & Winter 2022 Finding Camaraderie at the EJ Summit In 1998, the 1st annual NC Community Environmental Justice (EJ) Summit was held at the historical Franklinton Center at Bricks in Whitakers, NC. The summit was created from groundwork done the year prior, and helped form the NC Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN) that we know today. This past October, Clean Water for NC staff were able to attend the most recent EJ Summit and connect with fellow advocates, academics, and engaged community members. Belinda Joyner, Clean Water’s Northeastern Organizer and longtime attendee, reflected on her past experiences at the summit. She described the focus on community impacts with engagement and interaction from organizers such as herself. Camaraderie was especially important, with memories of karaoke and piano playing in the evening as participants enjoyed each other’s company. The next day would be filled with breakout sessions, with attendees splitting up into individual groups and later coming back together to reflect on their takeaways. Youth attendees had their own sessions and would report back afterwards. Babies and children brought to the summit, often year after year, were fondly dubbed “EJ Babies.” Due to the pandemic, the EJ Summit has not met in-person the last two years. Clean Water staff were excited to participate in this year’s summit, as it was the first time for several of us to attend. This year’s summit was purposely different, reflecting the shifted dynamics of NCEJN and the world we live in today. The summit’s program stated, “[with] this being our first in-person Summit in two years, we decided to focus on connection and community, foregoing some of those aspects but maintaining the goal of building power and paving the way forward.” With these goals in mind, the first day of the summit emphasized connecting with ourselves and others, through breath work, body movement, and storytelling. Memories of those EJ advocates who had recently passed away brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience. Moments of levity, however, interspersed the serious with jokes and fond remembrance. A disgruntled groundhog even made an appearance, running through the crowd shrieking on its way back to its burrow. As we gathered by the campfire after dinner, stories passed around about past EJ victories, the struggles for workers’ rights, and the passion that drives forward those seeking change. EJ Organizer & Researcher Christine Diaz at the 2022 EJ Summit The next day brought new light and renewed energy. Pallav Das, Co-founder of Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group spoke of revolutionary influencers and progressive systems to push against injustice, reminding us of how we can learn from different places and time periods. A breakout session allowed us to hear directly from a few impacted community members who spoke about barriers to public participation and the needs that have gone unmet within their communities. EJ advocates likewise expressed their desire to reach more people with the services they provide. We were reminded that we could all expand our reach and serve more of those needs by working together in cooperation to identify gaps and link to other groups who serve a specific function—perhaps it might be translation services, legal aid, or, in our case, drinking water advocacy. The notion of providing connection where needed was present in each of the circles we shared at the summit. As the summit wound to an end, we all joined hands and spoke, one after the other, I am a link in the chain, and the link in the chain will not break here. These words solidify our connection to each other and the mission at hand, building a more equitable and just world, with a safe and livable environment, for all. Read More!


    Continue reading
  • A Heartfelt Farewell from Rachel Velez, Water Justice Program Director

    After five inspiring years at Clean Water for North Carolina (CWFNC), I have made the difficult decision to step down from the organization to start a new career working in the public health sector on the national level. My time with CWFNC began in 2017 while volunteering with then Associate Director, Katie Hicks, on Water Justice campaign research projects, primarily focused on the federal Lead and Copper rule. Having spent most of my adult life working on global health initiatives in the developing world, I was shocked to learn the extent of drinking water contamination issues in the states – let alone North Carolina. "No Atlantic Coast Pipeline" Flotilla on the Tar River, 2018 After being hired by the organization as the Durham area Environmental Justice Organizer and Communications Coordinator, I dove headfirst into state and federal environmental policy, grassroots organizing, and learning the history of the Environmental Justice movement birthed here in Warren County. Any nonprofit professional will tell you that this work is not easy. We do it because we care about our children’s future, our planet, and the general wellbeing of the communities we seek to thrive in. Our work is never done, and there is rarely a day when we close our laptops and feel at peace that things are changing for the better. But we continue the work, day after day, because our communities deserve better. THIS is why I love the nonprofit sector, and why I feel that I’ve been so fortunate to have worked for an organization that always continues the fight. As I start this new chapter, I know I will continue to promote the principles of environmental and social justice in all aspects of my life. I wish nothing but the best for the organization going forward and look forward to hearing about all the wonderful successes Clean Water for North Carolina will accomplish in the years to come. Yours for Water Justice, Rachel Gloria Velez


    Continue reading
  • 40 Years of EJ Wrap-Around: Thank You to Our Panelists & Video Recording!

    Please join US in thanking Rev. William Kearney, Angella Dunston, and Danielle Koonce for their wonderful perspectives and input in commemorating 40 Years of Environmental Justice!  They spoke in a panel hosted by Clean Water for North Carolina on Friday, September 30, 2022, speaking on the birth of the EJ movement in Warren County to Today & Beyond!  Due to Hurricane Ian, quite a few folks missed out on our live event, but we made sure to record it to view at your convenience! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtpucMX8hCkThey spoke about the movement in Warren County and how it came to the national stage to start the EJ movement, the folks who marched and put themselves in harms way to protect the community, strong women and faith community that worked behind the scenes, and the need to keep and carry community history. KEY TAKEAWAYS As Rev. Kearney put it, we are pushing through some necessary discomforts in “Reconciling & Celebrating.” Reconciling our past Reconciling our present and Reconciling our future Danielle touched on the Power of Erasure and how local movements with national impact like that of Warren County’s 1982 protests are easily lost to history, not being taught to kids and not included in the history books. It took her until a graduate level sociology class to hear of the protests that sparked the EJ movement. This causes us to continually have to reinvent the wheel, starting over and over again. She also touched on the importance of Community Empowerment, recognizing that no one can speak out about environmental injustice like those of the OWN Community and their Lived Experience. Angella agreed and reminded us that communities CAN come together and be successful. There are many resources and organizations ready to help carry the load because it’s the Emotional, the Spiritual, and not just the Physical impacts that frontline communities carry. The central point: Community Voices need to be at the CENTER of the conversation. QUESTIONS & ANSWERS Q: What can we do? How can allies help? Angella: There are things to do everywhere! Find a cause, an issue, a problem you want to address and start working on doing that. Our host and speakers’ organizations are a great place to start! One thing you can do right now is DONATE  to support our Speaker Organizations and make sure you select the Designation “40 Years of EJ.” Reach out and volunteer with their organizations. Share and amplify their stories. Clean Water for NC is collecting your donations for the benefit of Warren County Environmental Action Team, NC Environmental Justice Network, EJ Community Action Network, and the NC League of Conservation Voters. SUPPORT OUR SPEAKERS Q: How has your organization adapted over time as technology and demographics change, especially in light of Covid-19? Rev. Kearney: Adapting to this new reality of virtual meetings, but still need better broadband in many communities, especially in rural areas. Technology has allowed for us to connect and communicate when its been otherwise very difficult. Danielle: Even in light of technology, the power of knocking on people’s doors and the power of the church is still the crux of connecting and has been some of the most effective tactics. People are SO Powerful when you give them the PLATFORM to be powerful. This is a common thread not just for Black Americans but for rural Americans of all races, especially throughout the South. Angella: Yes! A lot of folks in NC, especially in rural areas, struggle to gain ACCESS to clean water & air, quality food, decent home, and broadband which also impacts quality of education and employment. Focusing on developing and improving that access will help make strides and leaps. Q: How do people live into their power, connect with local government and state office staff who will be implementing federal policy, and strengthen their capacity to participate in decision-making? Rev. Kearney: Inclusiveness! Inviting people to the table. Provide for a structure that allows people to come as themselves and be comfortable. Changing systems and changing the hearts of the people are the two main parts of it. Whether local, regional, or global, it affects everyone! Inclusiveness needs to be addressed from the Systemic Level down to the Individual Person. Angella: You need to have people who have Lived Experiences and firsthand knowledge be part of the decision-making process. Those who are sitting around the table have been part of the harm. If you have any such connections as an ally, speak out and ensure that these specific folks are included and part of the decisions. Danielle: Don’t underestimate the power of the personal and the local. You have to ask yourself “Would I want 5,000 pigs in MY backyard?” Ivanhoe’s $14.5M water infrastructure grant is a great example. It started with the community coming together, then a van-load of people showing up at their county commissioner meetings, then their commissioners setting up meetings between the community and state government officials. Start locally with your mayor, county officials, even teachers. Angella: Electing officials who care about the people in your community is important! Rev. Kearney: We have a voice, so don’t let others set the narrative about your community. For an overview of all the commemorations throughout the month of September in celebration of 40 Years of Environmental Justice, check it out HERE. SUPPORT OUR SPEAKERS ABOUT THE SPEAKERS Angella Dunston— NC League of Conservation Voters (NCLCV)  Angella is a servant leader with a heart for people. Dunston has more than 20 years of experience in government relations, community engagement and policy advocacy. She has expansive skills in leadership development, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and is currently utilizing those skills to bring about effective change and improve community impact across the country. Dunston grew up in rural NC in Warren County and according to her mom, “she came out the womb fighting for the rights of other people.” She began her training as an advocate at an early age while fighting along with her family for the removal of the toxic cancerous chemical PCB which was dumped in Warren County in the early 80s. She is President and CEO of Dunston Crump Leadership Consulting, a woman-of-color-owned, for-profit organization located in North Carolina. The firm specializes in diversity, equity and inclusion, health disparities, youth leadership development, and capacity building. In her spare time, she serves on numerous boards including the NC League of Conservation Voters (NCLCV), Volunteers of America Carolina Council (VOACC), and a few nonprofits that provides support and resources for veterans. Rev. William (Bill) Kearney— Warren County Environmental Action Team (WCEAT)  Bill is the coordinator of the Warren County Environmental Action Team.  He is a partner in several community-engaged research partnerships and engages and consults with universities, organizations, and partnerships across the United States. His consulting company, Bill Kearney & Company, LLC, sponsors and facilitates the Warren County Environmental Action Team and the Warren County African American History Collective. Rev. Kearney serves as associate minister and health ministry coordinator at Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church and vice president of the United Shiloh Missionary Baptist Association Church Union. Rev. Kearney is also a research associate and community outreach manager at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. He has co-authored numerous research manuscripts and articles and has co-produced various documentaries.  He is also a managing partner of the PRIME Collective Consultants, LLC. Email Rev. Kearney at billkearney777@gmail.com. Danielle Koonce— Environmental Justice Community Action Network (EJCAN)  Danielle is Community Organizer & Board Member of the Environmental Justice Community Action Network.  As a doctoral candidate, she enjoys thinking about the connections and relationships between race and space, particularly rural spaces and how these relationships contribute foundationally to many broad themes in sociology. She is also interested in understanding contemporary Black resistance movements, particularly Black Lives Matter, and its organizational shifts and societal reach. Currently, she is doing her dissertation research on understanding how rural communities engage in Environmental Justice. Ghanja O’Flaherty— North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN)  UNABLE TO ATTEND DUE TO DEATH IN THE FAMILY.  Please join us in sending loving thoughts, prayers, and loving energy for healing during this difficult time. Ghanja is the Co-Director of Infrastructure and Development at the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network.  She is passionate about ensuring her people’s access to and enjoyment of the environment through equitable use and preservation of natural resources. She holds an M.S. is Environmental Sciences and Engineering from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (UNC) and a B.Eng. in Environmental Engineering from Carleton University. Hailing from St. Kitts-Nevis, Għanja’s small island upbringing comes to bear on her understanding that cookie-cutter solutions fit cookie-cutter problems of which there are not many. She values context and the co-design and co-production of solutions. Outside of work, Għanja is likely to be found in her garden or garage, working on her next project with her dog, Cosmo.


    Continue reading
  • Warren County commemorates 40 years of environmental justice struggle

    By: Will Atwater, North Carolina Health News September 21, 2022 At around 7 a.m. last Saturday, cars began collecting in the parking lot of Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church in rural Warren County. Across the road, the sun rose above a mixture of pines and deciduous trees that border a green field. Located somewhere in the distance, a generator’s mechanical hum was softened by early-morning bird songs. In an open field located a few hundred yards uphill and behind the church, chicken was grilling on two large grates parked next to a food truck. Bags of charcoal, needed to keep the cooking going, were being stacked. Something big was unfolding. About 50 yards beyond the food truck stood a roomy white tent that offered clues to what was unfolding. Inside the tent, people were busy, unboxing programs and covering rented tables with white tablecloths and artificial flower bouquets. Others were sorting T-shirts with “We Birthed The Movement” screen printed on them. A few were registering those who had come from near and far to participate in the day’s events. The day had started early for Bill Kearney. By 6:30 a.m. the associate minister of Coley Springs had already made two trips to the church. “I think expectations are so high for me, but I have to realize this is God’s work, and I didn’t do it,” said Kearney. “It was Him that worked through me, they called me to be a facilitator.” Kearney hurried back and forth, greeting people and directing volunteers. Eventually, he and a helper began hanging poster-sized photographs along the tent’s back wall. On display were photographs that document a tumultuous period in Warren County’s history. They harkened back to a time when community members protested. Some were arrested for doing so, some even used their bodies as human shields, trying to prevent injustice from steamrolling their community. They fought valiantly through 1982, but, ultimately, were unable to stop a toxic waste dump from being placed in Warren County later that year. The dump was created to house PCB-contaminated soil, which resulted from an illegal dumping scheme carried out by then North Carolina-based Ward Transformer Company in 1978. To avoid paying to legally dispose of the chemicals, and under the cover of darkness, people who ran the company discharged the toxic waste along roadsides, covering a 250-mile stretch across several counties. ‘We birthed a movement’ PCBs belong to a group of man-made chemicals known as chlorinated hydrocarbons and were widely used in the U.S. from 1929 until 1979, when they were banned. PCBs are considered toxic and carcinogenic. Exposure to these chemicals could result in a suppressed immune system and may cause cancer, among other negative health impacts. By the time people in the area had learned of the contamination, they had started to comprehend how very toxic the waste was. Rev. Ben Chavis speaks with two attendees of the Warren County 40th Anniversary Commemoration event. Credit: Will Atwater Although Warren County residents and supporters were unsuccessful in preventing the toxic waste landfill from being located in their community, their efforts birthed the environmental justice movement, now a worldwide phenomenon. Last Saturday, four decades later, hundreds gathered at the church for the 40th-anniversary commemoration. One of the first guests to arrive was Armenta Eaton, who came over from Franklin County. Eaton was not a Warren County resident when the protests started, but she had strong ties to the community. Her best friend, Dollie Burwell, recognized as the “mother of the movement” asked her to join the cause. “Dollie called me and said, ‘We may have to go to jail tomorrow, but I need you here in Warren County, because we’re starting to protest,’” Eaton recalls. “And I said, ‘Okay, I’ll be there, so I called my boss and I said, ‘I can’t come to work’ … He said, ‘Don’t worry about it, I’ll be there too.’  So anyway, that’s how I got involved.” Eaton said that, at the time, she worked for the civil rights organization The United Church of Christ and Rev. Leon White was her boss and the Rev. Ben Chavis, who is recognized as the “father” of the environmental justice movement, was a co-worker. ‘Hope has two daughters’ There were many highlights from Saturday’s commemoration. One memorable moment occurred during the return walk from the area where the toxic landfill was located. Burwell, a long-time activist and community leader, was given a new perspective on an issue she had struggled with for a while. Edgardo Colón-Emeric, dean of the Duke Divinity School, delivered “The Message of Hope and Commitment,” which Burwell said brought her relief. “I was gratified today to hear the reverend say, that hope has two daughters, courage and anger,” Burwell said. “Sometimes I really didn’t think anger was a good quality to have.” Reflecting on those difficult days during the protests when people’s anger reached the boiling point, she recalled that something positive happened. “The church got involved and got everybody engaged in civil disobedience,” she said.  “That’s what I would say redirected people’s anger into a movement.” Protesters lie in the road in 1982 to prevent trucks carrying PCB-contaminated soil from reaching the toxic waste landfill that was located in Warren County. Credit: Jenny Lebalme Jenny Labalme was a Duke University senior in 1982 when she snapped an iconic photograph that has become one of the visual symbols of environmental justice. On the walk, she reflected on what it was like 40 years later to walk along the road where she snapped her iconic images. “Oh my gosh, it’s always the songs. I don’t know what it is about it, but when Dollie grabbed the megaphone and started chanting and singing some of the [protest] songs, it just brought me right back to where we were 40 years ago,” Labalme said. “Obviously, no one was lying down in the road today to block dump trucks, and I wasn’t photographing, but just the crowd of people … I just felt a swell of support.” Where do we go from here? Before leaving, Chavis said the environmental justice movement has become an international movement since its 1982 birth in Warren County. He also said he is pleased to see the rise of future movement leaders. “I’m most encouraged to see millions of young people throughout the world demand environmental justice, demand climate justice, the two movements are part of the same outcry for freedom, justice and equality,” he said. Bill Kearney, center, holds the megaphone while Cameron Oglesby, right, leads a chant. Credit: Will Atwater To recognize future leaders, the commemoration had a “Passing of the Torch” ceremony that recognized one of the young leaders, Cameron Oglesby, a Duke graduate student. Oglesby said, while spending time with some of the environmental justice icons during the week leading up to Saturday’s event, she realized that they did not have everything figured out when they were young. “I’m hearing that, ‘Yeah, we didn’t really know what we were doing either, but we did it and we made it happen,’” she said. “And so I see potential reflection and mirroring of that work as the next generation picks it up.” As the next generation begins to take the positions itself to take on more leadership, Warren County residents like Angella Dunston would like to support economic development coming to the area. She points to Chatham County as a place where economic development has taken off, with new industries bringing thousands of new jobs to the area. She suggested that maybe “Warren County could’ve been the Chatham County of North Carolina” had the toxic landfill not been placed there. Near the closing of the event, Bill Kearney stepped to the microphone to thank the sponsors and volunteers who helped produce the event. Before leaving the stage, he offered this thought about the future of Warren County. Read the article on North Carolina Health News Join us on Friday, September 30th for our FREE virtual panel with speakers Angella Dunston, Rev. William (Bill) Kearney, Danielle Koonce & Ghanja O'Flaherty! Visit cwfnc.org/40yearsej to learn more and register


    Continue reading
  • Viewpoints: We’re Still Waiting on Chapel Hill Coal Ash Answers

    By: Amanda Strawderman, Op-Ed for Chapelboro.com September 9, 2022 May 16, 2022. That was the date the Town of Chapel Hill and NC Dept of Environmental Quality held a virtual meeting to inform the public of the process of the urgent yet controversial redevelopment of the town’s property at 828 MLK Blvd. Urgent, first and foremost, because the site contains an estimated 60,000 cubic yards of coal ash made up of carcinogenic compounds and heavy metals, exposure to which is known to be harmful to human health. And even after coal ash was discovered and the Town made initial cleanup efforts, sections of this site have continued to be exposed to rain and wind, and is of concern to the community. Controversial, because the Town has proposed to build residential housing and municipal buildings atop the site without first removing all of the coal ash. Given the risks for more exposure during and after the completion of this project, people naturally have questions about how they will be protected. It’s important to note that this was not the first meeting on the topic. Members of the public have been showing up for Chapel Hill Town Council meetings and reaching out with emails and phone calls for months. After being chided by some council members for speaking out without being fully informed, folks wanted to do just that, to become better informed and give the Town the opportunity to demonstrate that they have public health and safety considerations at the forefront of this project. And so on May 16, despite allotting only 30 minutes for questions, 73 members of the public – neighbors, local and statewide coalitions of coal ash-impacted community members, health experts, clean air and water advocates – attended the meeting to voice their concerns and ask for answers. Some questions were addressed during the meeting while others would require research and consultation, but all were promised to be given written responses that would soon be posted on the Town of Chapel Hill’s website. Seventy days. That’s how long we waited for the Town and DEQ to post those responses (Note that members of the public are expected to provide comments within 30 days after notice of a draft permit for polluting facilities). And even when these replies were posted, less than half the questions were answered and many were essentially evaded, overgeneralized, or pushed to future decisions in later stages of the project. To illustrate, community members have long been asking about the potential removal methods for the coal ash at the site, and when DEQ responded, they simply stated “decisions about removal should be directed to the Town of Chapel Hill representatives.” Yet the Town had insisted they were bringing in DEQ for their expertise. When asked if DEQ’s brownfield program had previous experience with ‘mitigated coal ash on proposed housing sites’ they discussed projects at other types of sites with elevated metals, avoiding the true answer that the program has NEVER put a residential development on top of a former coal ash site. Discourse that has the public running in circles doesn’t exactly build confidence that any number of potentially negative consequences from this project have been considered. Far from trying to obstruct progress, we just want to understand the plan. Aside from the redevelopment proposal that has been put forth, what other types of clean-up and remediation options has the Town even considered or been given estimates? How would potential exposure and health risks differ between users and activities at the redeveloped site (residents/employees or long-term vs visitors or short-term)? Have they consulted the NC Department of Health and Human Services or other health researchers about potential public health impacts from these proposals? How will they ensure workers and community members will be protected during construction? How will the waste be handled, transported, and stored so that coal ash dust doesn’t escape into the air we breathe or the water we drink? How long will they monitor the local environment after the project is completed? And whichever plan they choose, how will they ensure negative impacts are not disproportionately borne by low-income or BIPOC community members? These are just some of the valid concerns that haven’t been addressed. Considering that this is only one of who knows how many undiscovered coal ash sites across the state, what is decided now doesn’t only affect the residents of Chapel Hill, the next one could be in any one of our neighborhoods. It is in everyone’s best interest to see that justice is done for our fellow Carolinians in this matter. Decide for yourself and follow the issue on the Chapel Hill website or Futureof828.org. Watch the recording of the meeting, read their responses, and participate in the upcoming meetings to ask your own questions. This project is still at the early stages, but if we don’t make sure the Town is thinking things through, then decisions will be made and they might just claim it’s too late, that too much effort has already gone into this plan, too much money has been invested, or that we should have said something sooner. It’s now September and the next Chapel Hill Town Council meeting is on the 14th. To the council and DEQ, we HAVE spoken, we’re still here, and we’re waiting for answers. Read the article on Chapelboro.com


    Continue reading
  • Consumer Confidence Reports: Opportunities and Challenges for Small NC Water Systems

    Read the Report! Where does my drinking water come from? Is my water safe to drink? How is my water being treated? If you've ever found yourself asking these common drinking water questions, you're not alone! Drinking water customers have the right to know what is in the water they are consuming and where this water comes from. This founding principle spurred the passage of the federal Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) rule in the 1996 amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Consumer Confidence Reports, or annual Water Quality Reports, provide consumers with an annual snapshot of the quality of their drinking water, while also providing important information on health risks, treatment methods and other educational materials. Overall, your utility's Annual Water Quality Reports are meant to help you  make informed decisions about the water you drink! But what happens when your drinking water provider lacks the capacity or know-how to produce effective, meaningful water quality reports for their customers? Our new report seeks to explore the challenges and opportunities that small NC water systems face when publishing their annual Consumer Confidence Reports. Read the Report! With the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently in the process of revising the CCR rules, we hope our findings provide a unique insight into not only how the NC Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ) can better assist small, struggling water systems, but how the new federal rules can also be accommodating to the tens of thousands of smaller drinking water providers across the nation. While our main focus is to provide recommendations to NC DEQ and EPA about helpful tools and resources that can assist small utilities with publishing effective CCRs, the general public may also find this report helpful in: ...understanding their rights as a drinking water customer under the federal SDWA ...how they can access their annual water quality reports ...how the EPA is working to ensure the new rules reflect a greater focus on equity and inclusion for the diverse populations of drinking water customers in the United States Our new report, "Consumer Confidence Reports: Challenges and Opportunities for Small NC Water Systems" is just one of many resources Clean Water for NC has published to help community members become better informed about the quality of their drinking water. Check out our resources list below for more tips and tricks to becoming an informed drinking water expert! YouTube Video: Understanding Your Drinking Water Utility's Consumer Confidence Report Fact Sheet: Annual Water Quality Reports Brochure: Types of Water Systems in North Carolina


    Continue reading
  • No Sacrifice Zones: Appalachian Resistance comes to DC September 8th!

    In order to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, Senators Manchin and Schumer made a deal which introduces a separate piece of legislation that would fast-track permit approvals for fossil fuel projects in September. While no one has seen the official legislation, the leaked one-page summary of the deal limits foundational environmental protections, endangers public health, fast-tracks fossil fuels, and pushes approval for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and a draft legislation text even bears the watermark from the American Petroleum Institute.  This side deal has been written by and for the fossil fuel industry, and further causes concerns for frontline communities. The summary document released by Manchin’s office would introduce a wide range of changes to the time tables of the decisions made by regulatory agencies reviewing energy projects under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act and other authorities These changes include, among other revisions: Reinstating limitations on state authority under the Clean Water Act that were made during the Trump administration Requiring federal agencies to concurrently review the different authorizations and permits for a project, and limiting NEPA review to two years for major projects and one year for smaller projects Creating loopholes for certain projects to avoid NEPA review altogether Establishing an avenue for the Secretary of Energy to make a determination whether an energy project is in the national interest, as opposed to the Secretary of State. These measures would put a great deal of strain on federal agencies and courts, and possibly force these institutions to take information presented by the companies requesting permits at face value instead of having the ability to do their own due diligence.  Appalachia, and all other sacrifice zones at risk due to this potential legislation, refuse to be sacrificed for political purposes. We must protect the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act (CWA), tribal sovereignty and frontline communities having a say.  Clean Water for NC joined with 650 groups in a letter to reject Machin’s side deal which fast tracks MVP and limits important environmental protections for energy projects.  Ways YOU can take action: Sign this petition opposing this side deal: Appalachian Voices Petition Send a letter to your representative:  https://tinyurl.com/blockthedeal Attend the September 8th Rally!


    Continue reading
  • EJ Index- Cumulative Impacts & Health Burdens for EJ Communities

    Cumulative Impacts Cumulative impacts are incremental and combined effects from pollution sources, that while individually might be minor, collectively have much greater health and environmental impacts.  Contaminants can find their way into our homes and bodies through the air, water, soil, and even our food! According to a 2018 Duke University study, the health risks associated with exposure to industrial swine operations over time include: asthma, kidney disease, sepsis- bacterial infections of the blood, low birth weight, and infant mortality.  Moreover, a Johns Hopkins DNA sequencing study released in 2021 suggests that antibiotic resistant bacterial strains are spreading from pigs to community members - an emerging health crisis!  Such health risks are compounded for communities that are also home to “deemed permitted” poultry facilities which occur in locations and concentrations unknown to DEQ. Similar to industrial hog farms, poultry operations' health risks include blue-baby syndrome, colorectal cancer, thyroid disease, neural tube defects, spontaneous abortions and prematurity, rashes, stomach illnesses, respiratory problems like asthma and pneumonia, and neurological issues. These negative health impacts are compounded when other industries are nearby like wood pellet plants, coal ash reprocessing plants, oil and gas pipelines, and more. Currently, water and air permits for polluters in North Carolina are considered based on the individual permit, not how its emissions or discharges from the proposed activities may contribute to the load cumulatively with other polluting sources.  For example, if the maximum contaminant level for Pollutant X is 100 parts per billion (ppb), that means that the highest allowable discharge that is considered safe for the community is 100ppb.  However, permits are being granted where each facility will be allowed to pollute 100ppb a piece.  As other polluters also apply for permits, they are also allowed 100ppb. If 10 polluters receive permits to emit or discharge 100ppb each, they end up dumping a collective 1,000ppb on the community even though the maximum contaminant level of what is considered “safe” is only 100ppb.  Rather than allocating various industries a slice of the pollutant pie, they’re all just being allotted whole pies each!  And all of this is at the expense of the neighboring communities and environment. Adding insult to injury, the communities facing these cumulative impacts in highest concentrations are also disproportionately low-income, BIPOC (black, indigenous, or people of color), and/or have pre-existing health vulnerabilities.  A newly released data tool may prove helpful in identifying and understanding the ramifications of these cumulative and disproportionate impacts on health. Introducing the Environmental Justice Index The Environmental Justice Index (EJI) was released on August 10, 2022, as part of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The index aggregates data from several sources to rank the cumulative impacts of environmental injustice on health for every census tract, measuring the environmental burden on health/equity and identifying those areas most at risk for health impacts. EJI defines census tract as “the smallest subdivisions of land for which demographic and health data are consistently available. Each census tract is part of a particular county and is home to an average of 4,000 people.”  Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Of particular interest about the EJI, is that it provides a single score for each community down to the census tract to help identify which communities are most impacted and at risk from environmental burdens. The rankings are based on breakouts of (1) Social Vulnerability such as socioeconomic status, household characteristics, and housing type; (2) Environmental Burden such as air pollution, potentially hazardous & toxic sites, built environment, transportation infrastructure, and water pollution; and (3) Health Vulnerability such as pre-existing chronic disease burden.  It’s further broken down in the image below.  You can click the image to access the original pdf from CDC with more detail and in accessible text format. So, Now What? While many NC communities already know these impacts, living them everyday, our state lawmakers and regulatory agencies regularly claim that data is insufficient to legislate or fund certain initiatives, such as requiring consideration of EJ, cumulative, or disparate impacts in environmental permitting. Of course, a tool is only as good as the data it uses, so we will continue pushing for continued and expanding environmental monitoring and analyses by industry, regulators, academics, and the nonprofit sector.  Clean Water for NC will continue and grow its own environmental monitoring and analyses efforts as well as fighting for actual tracking of all polluting facilities, given that most Factory Farm sites are not accounted for by the NC Department of Environmental Quality. This EJI tool, combined with environmental monitoring data and several other data tools, provides the very justification our legislators and regulators claim they need and it is high time our state’s decision-makers take heed!  We will continue diving deeper into this tool and make recommendations where applicable for continued improvement. If you have questions about the air and water impacts on your community’s health, want to share your experience, or just plain want to connect with others who may be experiencing similar issues, start connecting on Storybank or reach out to us at info@cwfnc.org. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry. 2022 Environmental Justice Index. Accessed August 12, 2022. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/eji/index.html For more information about other helpful data and mapping tools, visit our Community Tools page.  We offer this resource page for publicly available search tools and mapping applications like EPA’s EJScreen Map, DEQ’s Community Mapping System, and more.  We also provide how-to-videos, guides, fact sheets, and more.  Our team is currently reviewing the EJI Tool and we may add it to our resource page soon.  Stay tuned!


    Continue reading
  • Promoting Viable, Equitable Drinking Water & Sewer Infrastructure for NC Communities

    Over the next 20 years, North Carolina water and wastewater infrastructure needs are estimated to range from $17B to $26B. The State Water Infrastructure Authority’s (SWIA) Master Plan outlines where investments need to be made to ensure a viable future for NC’s nearly 1,800 public water utilities. Facts, figures, and historical notes culminate to make the following clear: intentional, forward-thinking investments are key to achieving viable, self-sustaining systems. Not surprisingly, many of our state’s smaller, more rural towns and municipalities face the greatest challenges when investing in and maintaining their drinking water systems and wastewater facilities. Declining rural populations and the outmigration of businesses reduce a town’s ratepayer base. Many small systems - those serving less than 10K customers – were created when there was more public funding available than there is today. And during those formative days, local water boards did not charge high enough rates to set aside for long-term repair and maintenance needs. Utilities facing these and other obstacles are deemed "at risk" or “distressed units” - unable to meet their financial, organizational, and/or operational present and future needs. The federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provides not only much-needed economic relief for individuals and small business owners, but also throws a lifeline to states struggling to provide necessary funding for public water and sewer infrastructure projects. Of the $8.6 billion NC is slated to receive in ARPA funding, the NC General Assembly appropriated $1.69B directly for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater projects. Over $350 million is set aside specifically for “distressed” utilities. While the ARPA federal assistance is essentially “free money” for NC water and wastewater systems to make needed infrastructure investments, Clean Water for NC (CWFNC) staff understands that many small government units may not have the staffing or technical capacity needed to navigate the application process. Since February 2022, CWFNC's Water Justice Program Director, Rachel Velez, has been speaking directly with local governments about this unprecedented injection of federal funds for our state's most rural and underserved municipalities. Assistance provided includes sharing information about the types of projects eligible for funding, how to navigate the application process, where to attend Application Training sessions hosted by Division of Water Infrastructure (DWI), and how to work directly with DWI staff on a one-on-one basis to complete the application. With the Fall 2022 funding round just opening up, we continue on our mission of speaking with each of the 94 "distressed" local government units to ensure they have every opportunity possible to submit competitive proposals and secure much needed drinking water and sewer infrastructure for their communities. If you would like more information about the Fall 2022 funding round for water and sewer infrastructure to share with your own water system, please contact Rachel Velez at rachel@cwfnc.org.


    Continue reading