• EPA warns toxic ‘forever chemicals’ more dangerous than once thought

    By: Gino Grandoni, The Washington Post June 15, 2022 The Environmental Protection Agency warned Wednesday that a group of human-made chemicals found in the drinking water, cosmetics and food packaging used by millions of Americans poses a greater danger to human health than regulators previously thought. The new health advisories for a ubiquitous class of compounds known as polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, underscore the risk facing dozens of communities across the country. Linked to infertility, thyroid problems and several types of cancer, these “forever chemicals” can persist in the environment for years without breaking down. “People on the front-lines of PFAS contamination have suffered for far too long,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “That’s why EPA is taking aggressive action.” The guidance aims to prompt local officials to install water filters or at least notify residents of contamination. But for now, the federal government does not regulate the chemicals. Health advocates have called on the Biden administration to act more quickly to address what officials from both parties describe as a contamination crisis that has touched every state. “Today’s announcement should set off alarm bells for consumers and regulators,” said Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney at the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization. “These proposed advisory levels demonstrate that we must move much faster to dramatically reduce exposures to these toxic chemicals.” Since the 1940s, chemical makers have used the highly durable compounds to make nonstick cookware, moisture-repellent fabrics and flame-retardant equipment. But that same toughness against water and fire, which made the chemicals profitable, allowed them to accumulate in nature and build up in the body — with long-term health effects. The sun sets behind the control tower of the former Loring Air Force Base on July 18, 2020, in Limestone, Maine, where the Air Force plans to test for contamination by “forever chemicals.” (David Sharp/AP) Agency officials assessed two of the most common ones, known as PFOA and PFOS, in recent human health studies and announced Wednesday that lifetime exposure at staggeringly low levels of 0.004 and 0.02 parts per trillion, respectively, can compromise the immune and cardiovascular systems and are linked to decreased birth weights. Those drinking-water concentrations represent “really sharp reductions” from previous health advisories set at 70 parts per trillion in 2016, said Erik Olson, a senior strategic director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group. The announcement, he added, sends “an important signal to get this stuff out of our drinking water.” More significantly, the EPA is preparing to propose mandatory standards for the two chemicals this fall. Once finalized, water utilities will face penalties if they neglect to meet them. The advisories will remain in place until the rule comes out. The EPA also said Wednesday that it is offering $1 billion in grants to states and tribes through the bipartisan infrastructure law to address drinking-water contamination. The advisories’ levels are so low that they are difficult to detect with today’s technology. Some lawmakers, including Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement that this meant the new guidance is impractical. “EPA’s announcement will only increase confusion for water systems’ compliance efforts and further complicate risk communication to the public,” she said. The American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s main trade group, said in a statement that it supports developing enforceable standards for these long-lasting compounds. But it faulted the EPA for issuing the advisories before outside experts on the agency’s Science Advisory Board had finished reviewing the underlying research, suggesting the process is “fundamentally flawed.” “Rather than wait for the outcome of this peer review, EPA has announced new Advisories that are 3,000 to 17,000 times lower than those released by the Obama Administration in 2016,” it said. Already in the United States, manufacturers have largely replaced PFOA and PFOS with other fluorinated compounds. The EPA determined that two of those alternatives — dubbed GenX and PFBS — also are dangerous to ingest even at relatively low levels, according to a review of recent research on mice. Among the communities hit hardest with contamination are those near military bases, where PFAS-laden foams were used for decades to fight jet-fuel fires. Many residents in Oscoda, Mich., for instance, have heeded warnings from state health officials and stopped drinking untreated well water and eating deer hunted near the now-shuttered Wurtsmith Air Force Base. “There still is no plan in place for the cleanup,” said Anthony Spaniola, an attorney and co-chair of the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network whose family has a lakeside home in Oscoda. “The Department of Defense, quite frankly, has mismanaged this site, bordering on reckless.” Spaniola hopes the new health advisories mean the military will “change the scope of what they need to clean up.” In North Carolina, Emily Donovan’s family of four started carrying around bottled water and installed a filter under their sink after PFAS were discovered in and around Cape Fear River. Instead of asking parents to donate cookies and cupcakes, schools request bottles of water for dances and other events. “It’s a layer of stress that we all live with now,” said Donovan, now an activist who co-founded Clean Cape Fear and is on the leadership team of the National PFAS Contamination Coalition. “You’re constantly wondering,” she added, “is there something inside of me? Is there something inside of my children?” Regan, who served as North Carolina’s top environmental official before joining the EPA, ordered the chemical company Chemours to stop the compounds from trickling into the river. On Wednesday, the company took issue with the analysis the EPA used to craft its latest guidance. “We are already using state-of-the-art technologies at our sites to abate emissions and remediate historical releases,” Chemours said in a statement. “We are evaluating our next steps, including potential legal action, to address the EPA’s scientifically unsound action.” While the agency is planning to regulate two PFAS, thousands of distinct compounds have been discovered. Many health advocates say federal regulators need to crack down on the compounds as a group. “We can’t continue this whack-a-mole approach to regulating them,” Olson said. “We’ll never be finished in anyone’s lifetime.” Radhika Fox, who heads the Office of Water at the EPA, said the agency is considering more sweeping regulations of the class of compounds. “We are exploring options to propose a rule that is for groups, not just PFOA and PFOS,” she told reporters Tuesday in a Zoom call. Read the article on The Washington Post


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  • NC leaders plan to test for lead and asbestos in drinking water at schools

    By: Lora Lavigne, WRAL May 5, 2022 Experts say lead or asbestos contamination in drinking water at public schools could be making your child sick. The state’s top education leaders will meet Wednesday to discuss what action is needed. The North Carolina Board of Education will assess how high the risk for lead exposure is and how much should be spent to minimize the exposure. When the school board gathers Wednesday, leaders will refine a policy to take further action on testing and discuss what the cost will be to execute that plan. The plan will be solely focused on eliminating or minimizing…


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  • Contaminated wells prompt NC county to seek state grant

    By: Ben Sessoms, Common Dreams April 19, 2022 The Gray’s Creek community in Cumberland County could receive federal funding to help address the GenX contamination of some residential wells. The county Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed Monday to apply for North Carolina’s drinking water reserve and wastewater reserve grant. The grant, which has two rounds of funding in the spring and fall, is financed through federal allocations to the state as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA. The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality will administer the funds and determine which applicants are awarded grant money. If accepted, the county could receive up to $15 million to fund construction of a new central water distribution system in the Gray’s Creek area in southern Cumberland County, according to county documents. The state’s grant is meant for at-risk water systems for which, among other purposes, the applicant’s intention is to connect residences in disadvantaged, underserved communities to a different water system. According to water sampling from DEQ, some residential wells in Gray’s Creek are contaminated with GenX, a chemical substance produced in the nearby Chemours plant. GenX is a trade name for one unregulated per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance, or PFAS, used in manufacturing nonstick coatings, among other purposes, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Last month, Cumberland County filed a lawsuit against Chemours and its predecessor company, DuPont, for allegedly releasing millions of pounds of PFAS into the air above its Fayetteville Works facility in the decades following 1970, as reported by Carolina Public Press. To determine how GenX affects the human body, more studies need to be done, according to DHHS. A small, limited study from the state agency suggests the substance, which DuPont started producing in 2009, may leave the human body quickly. Previously, the county had allocated $10.5 million for providing an alternative water system for Gray’s Creek. A pending contract is in place with the Fayetteville Public Works Commission, but the board has not yet finalized and approved that agreement. The county has until May 2 to apply for the state grant. If DEQ doesn’t accept Cumberland County’s application, the department will automatically consider the application for the next round of funding in the fall. The state could grant a low-interest loan to supplement funding if Cumberland County accepts, according to DEQ. If funding is still available after both application rounds, DEQ will give more to accepted applicants in $5 million increments until all the money is exhausted. DEQ will reward applicants in increments in order of priority, which the agency will determine. Read the article on Common Dreams


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  • State Accepting Public Comments on Draft Permit to address Chemours Groundwater Contamination

    State Accepting Public Comments on Draft Permit to address Chemours Groundwater Contamination Permit is part of remediation plan to prevent PFAS discharge to the Cape Fear River The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Division of Water Resources (DWR) is accepting public comments on a draft permit to treat PFAS-contaminated groundwater, surface water and stormwater from the Chemours Fayetteville Works site before discharge into the Cape Fear River. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) wastewater permit is part of the required actions to prevent residual PFAS pollution from entering the Cape…


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  • REPORT: “Advancing Well User Protections Through Policy”

    Clean Water for NC is celebrating World Water Day this year with the release of our new report "Advancing Well User Protections Through Policy"! Read Our Report!   This year's theme for International World Water Day 2022 is Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible. Acknowledging the importance of groundwater and the services it provides to individuals across the globe is essential to developing protective well user protection policies, including policies for North Carolina's nearly 3 million private well users! With assistance from NC Well Water Working Group members, UNC's Superfund Research Program, NC Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ) and NC Department of Health and Human Service (NC DHHS) officials, we outlined the case for two well user protection proposals: 1. Increase Funding, Scope & Accessibility of the Bernard Allen Fund 2. Require Well Testing Prior to Real Estate Transactions We hope you find this report insightful and inspiring. Our team looks forward to continuing to develop these policy recommendations before introducing them to some "legislative champions" in Raleigh! Did you know that North Carolina has the second largest population of private well users in the U.S.? Not only that, but there are no federal protections for these individuals - it is complete up to private well users to ensure the safety of their drinking water. What can you do to advocate for well user protections in your own community? Reach out to your state representatives and urge them to support policies that promote safe drinking water protections for North Carolina well users Visit our Well User Protection page to learn more about your county's well program. (Your county's Environmental Health Director is your local resource for everything "wells" - they are there to assist you!) Connect with Clean Water for NC staff about any questions or concerns you have about your private well


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  • Celebrating 50 Years of the Clean Water Act

    This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, our nation's landmark water protection legislation that aims to maintain healthy surface waters, ensure the health of ecological resources, protect human health, and restore impaired waters. It provides all individuals within the United States the right to waterways that are clean, biologically intact, and safe for use. Federal authority for enforcement lies with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which gives states and tribes the tools and guidance necessary to protect and maintain healthy waterways in cooperation with federal government agencies. This cornerstone legislation was signed into law by President Nixon on October 18, 1972, with the main goals of restoring and maintaining "the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s water,” eliminate pollutant discharges and provide for the “protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife” and “recreation in and on the water.” President Nixon signs the Clean Water Act into Law, October 18th 1972. Source: Science History Institute “The Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 — the modern Clean Water Act — established a national commitment to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. The Clean Water Act has been instrumental in improving the health of rivers, lakes, and coastal waters. It has stopped billions of pounds of pollution from fouling the water, and dramatically increased the number of waterways that are safe for swimming and fishing.” Learn more about the history of the Clean Water Act: “A Brief History of the Clean Water Act”, from PBS’s NOW Robust protection of our nation's surface waters came under act attack in 2020 when the Trump administration dramatically reduced the amount of U.S. waterways receiving federal protection under the Clean Water Act in a bid to comply with industry interests and fast-track oil and gas pipelines. Of the many changes introduced by Trump's EPA, perhaps the biggest and most contentious was the controversial move to roll back federal pollution limits in wetlands and smaller waterways. All together, Trump gutted protections for 25% of surface waters in the country. The tides changed once again in 2021 when newly elected President Joe Biden announced his plans to undo the Trump-era rule and restore protections to streams and wetlands. While we await a formal rule proposal by the Biden administration, the 2015 Obama-era "Clean Water Rule" has been reinstated in the interim. This law provides a blanket definition of "Waters of the United States" (WOTUS), allowing protections to approximately 60% of America's surface waters. Wetlands in North Carolina. Source: Department of Environmental Quality We love clean water and know you do, too! Keep up-to-date with all our work with communities to protect and restore North Carolina's beautiful water resources. Sign up today to receive our newest edition of Clean Currents to learn about our Water Justice & Polluter Accountability programs, membership & volunteer opportunities, and how YOU can become a clean water advocate in your own community. Sign up to receive our quarterly Clean Currents Newsletter! Our NC Department of Environmental Quality's Division of Water Resources is responsible for ensuring safe drinking water in accordance with the Clean Water Act. The Division issues pollution control permits, monitors permit compliance, and carries out enforcement actions for violations of environmental regulations. Help protect the waters of North Carolina by getting informed and getting involved! Sign up to receive Division of Water Resources Press releases. Information on meetings regarding rulemakings, surface water quality standards, and committee meetings Sign up to receive information on draft permits for a proposed industry. Public notices straight to your inbox about opportunities to speak out and how to provide comments to the Division  Check out River Network's comprehensive Clean Water Act overview for community manuals, toolkits, and much more!


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  • Biden Administration Announces Crackdown on Toxic Coal Ash Pollution

    By: Earth Justice, January 11 For the first time, the federal government is enforcing rules that require the coal industry to clean up toxic coal ash waste. This pollution can leak into groundwater and drinking water sources. Earthjustice was deeply involved in passing the original coal ash rules as part of our mission to secure clean air and drinking water for all. Since then, we've been fighting in court to make sure the government upholds them. Coal ash is the leading source of water contamination in the U.S.  Coal ash contains a long list of toxic chemicals, including arsenic, radium, and other carcinogens, as well as several metals that can impair children’s developing brains. There are 738 regulated coal ash dump sites in the U.S. Coal ash ponds hold enough ash to fill train cars that circle the earth more than 5 times over. According to analysis of the industry’s own test results, 91 percent of coal plants severely polluted the underlying groundwater to levels that exceed federal safe standards for drinking water. Coal plants are disproportionately located in communities where people suffer higher incidences of cancer, asthma and more. The EPA just told several coal plants they must follow federal rules about how coal ash is managed.  On January 11 the EPA responded to nine power plants that applied to delay closure of their toxic ash ponds. The EPA did not grant any of the nine applications: it rejected three outright, found four incomplete and one ineligible, and indicated it would only conditionally approve one application after compliance violations were resolved. This is the first time the EPA is interpreting and enforcing the federal government’s rules on coal ash since those rules were passed in 2015. The Trump administration tried to roll back the rules, even after a federal court sided with Earthjustice and ordered the government to strengthen coal ash regulations. Most coal facilities have taken measures to hide toxic coal ash contamination and leave their plants in a condition that will permanently plague local communities with hazardous chemicals. The EPA needs to reverse this course and hold utilities responsible for cleanup and safe closure of toxic ash ponds. Today marks the first step of this process. The EPA’s decisions will have wide application and set a precedent for the hundreds of U.S. coal plants and the coal ash ponds and landfills they manage. [View a map of coal plants contaminating groundwater] The EPA’s decisions establish that:  Coal ash ponds can’t be closed with ash sitting IN groundwater. Across the nation, at least 150 ash ponds are within five feet of groundwater, with a lot of those sitting in direct contact with the water. Leaving ponds of toxic waste in contact with groundwater creates never-ending leaching of dangerous chemicals like arsenic, cobalt, cadmium, lead and radium, which can cause cancer and neurological harm. Coal plant operators must clean up groundwater contaminated by coal ash and cannot get away with “do-nothing” solutions that simply wait for the toxic metals to be diluted or flow into the nearest drinking water well or surface water. Coal plant operators must openly and honestly determine the extent of water contamination caused by coal ash at their plants and can no longer hide behind intentionally false sampling and analysis that conceals the true extent of the poisoned groundwater. Read the article on Earth Justice


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  • PRESS RELEASE: DHHS Launches Low Income Household Water Assistance Program

    JANUARY 3, 2022 - The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services today announced the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program will expand to include all low-income households needing assistance in paying their water bill. LIHWAP was created in December 2021 after the State of North Carolina was awarded more than $38 million in federal funds to establish a new water assistance program for households affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, households with a current water/wastewater bill can begin applying for LIHWAP assistance if they meet the eligibility requirements, whether or not their water service has been disconnected. Households that have had their services disconnected or are in jeopardy of having their services disconnected can continue to apply. "Due to the pandemic and its impact on our economy, many households are struggling to maintain their water service," said Tara Myers, NCDHHS Deputy Secretary for Employment, Inclusion and Economic Stability. "LIHWAP will continue to help families in North Carolina keep their water running, a basic human need that’s critical for good sanitation and better health." LIHWAP is a temporary emergency program that helps eligible households and families afford water and wastewater services. The program provides a one-time payment for eligible low-income households directly to the utility company. LIHWAP runs through September 2023 or until the funds run out. Individuals can apply online at epass.nc.gov. Individuals can also apply by printing a paper application from epass.nc.gov and dropping it off at or faxing it to their local county Department of Social Services or by calling their local county Department of Social Services to apply by phone. To be eligible for LIHWAP, a household must have at least one U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen and: Have income equal to or less than 150% of the federal poverty level Have household services that are disconnected, in jeopardy of disconnection or have a current outstanding bill Be responsible for the water bill Households can apply through Sept. 30, 2023, or until funds are exhausted. For more information on this program and eligibility, visit the LIHWAP website at www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/social-services/energy-assistance/low-income-household-water-assistance-program-lihwap. × ICYMI: We just published our newest report "A Pandemic's Impact: Utility Disconnections, Evictions & Houselessness". Included is a list of resources for individuals facing economic hardships caused by the pandemic.


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  • Comment Deadline on Proposed Plan to Administer American Rescue Plan Act’s Funding – Jan 12, 5PM

    State Seeks Public Comment on Proposed Plan to Administer American Rescue Plan Act’s State Fiscal Recovery Funding RALEIGH – The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Infrastructure (DWI) is accepting comments until January 12, 2022 on the proposed plan to administer approximately $1.6 billion in federal funds appropriated in the state budget for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure. The North Carolina General Assembly appropriated the funds from the state’s allocation of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), including $839.6 million directed to specific local governments and public entities. DWI will administer the remaining…


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  • Our Policy Wishlist for Private Well Users in 2022!

    Direct advocacy with communities on the ground for safe water and clean air is just one part of our Environmental Justice work! Policy development is a key aspect to ensure meaningful, sustainable change. We are excited to share our Well User Protection policy recommendations with our membership & NC legislators in 2022! Support Our Work Today Almost one third of North Carolinians rely on private wells for their drinking water - a source that is not protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. In partnership with UNC-Chapel Hill and the statewide Well Water Working Group, our team at CWFNC has developed two policy recommendations that we will be publishing in 2022 with the goal of raising support for these protections on the state level. Increased Funding for Private Well Tests Cost can be a major barrier for regular testing of private wells, particularly for low-income households. We believe this obstacle can be addressed by the Bernard Allen Fund, created in 2006 to improve the state’s response to private well water contamination and provide low-income households with a safe drinking water supply. Recommendations for the Fund include increasing funding available, providing a public application, increasing the household income limit or providing a sliding scale, and further addressing testing of naturally-occurring contaminants to better address threats to safe drinking water for well users. Requiring Well Testing Before a Real Estate Transaction A safe drinking water supply is essential to human health as well as protecting the value of residential property. If a real estate transfer is finalized before the property owner or renter discovers that the groundwater is contaminated, there may be limited options to remediate the issue. CWFNC believes that adequate testing is essential to due diligence prior to the purchase or rental of any property supplied by a private drinking water well, and is exploring policy initiatives in other states to help develop a similar policy recommendation here in NC. Thank you to all our new and recurring members for sustaining our Well User Protection policy work in 2021! We look forward to sharing more of this work and with you into the New Year! If you haven't given yet, consider donating to Clean Water for NC today and receive a tax deduction before the end of the year! Support Our Work Today


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