GenX, water contaminant testing bills filed

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By Brian Slattery

Competing bills that address GenX and other emerging contaminants in the Cape Fear River, from which Brunswick County draws its drinking water, and other sources of drinking water were submitted May 17 during the second day of the General Assembly’s short session.

Rep. Deb Butler, D-Wilmington, who represents northern Brunswick County, filed House Bill 968 with fellow Democrats Pricey Harrison of Greensboro, William Richardson and Elmer Floyd of Fayetteville spoke about the bill during a May 17 town meeting in Wilmington.

“I’m confident if my bill were allowed to the fore, it would get a lot of votes. But I don’t expect the (Republican) leadership to allow it to the fore,” Butler said. “But I wanted to put it out as an aspirational document. If nothing else to show voters and citizens what could be and what should be.”

Butler said she and the other house members crafted a comprehensive bill after consultation with River Keepers, the governor’s office, with the Department of Environmental Quality, scientists and environmental lawyers.

“It’s thoughtful, it’s comprehensive in the expert’s opinion of what needs doing,” Butler said.

At the town hall, which drew about 80 area residents, Butler said the bill would provide more than $14 million to DEQ and restore about half the positions that have been cut from the department.

It would also repeal the Hardison Amendment that limits the General Assembly to meeting Environmental Protection Agency standards instead of creating more stringent regulations.

Butler said there is no retroactive reimbursement available if the bill were passed that would allow Brunswick County to recoup some of the $99 million it intends to spend to install a reverse psmosis plant to filter GenX and other poly and per-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs) from the Cape Fear River.

County officials learned in June 2017 the Cape Fear River, the source of the county’s drinking water, contains a number of previously unknown contaminants including GenX, other PFAs and 1,4-Dioxane that leaked from The Chemours Co. Fayetteville Works site along the river.

“I don’t think we can reach back on it, but that is what civil litigation is for and I wouldn’t be surprised if you see some of that in the coming months,” Butler said.

“My thought is, why don’t we put a reverse osmosis filtration at the Chemours site before the water goes into the river? But honestly, if there is a known carcinogen, it shouldn’t be going into the water at all,” she said. “They should have 100 percent recapture on site and dispose of it some other way.”

Butler added her bill also puts airborne emissions back into the definition of discharge “which is important because, as we know, that stuff is being incinerated,” she said. “It’s traveling in the air, landing on the ground and finding its way into private well water and back into the waterways. So we are trying to be very thoughtful, and this is a very good first step.”

HB 968 would establish enhanced requirements for dischargers of pollutants to North Carolina’s air and water, to provide increased funding for the DEQ and the Department of Health and Human Services and to make other statutory changes to address contamination of drinking water in the state.

The bill would prohibit discharges of unregulated toxic pollutants and require the suspension of any permit where a discharged pollutant was not authorized in the permit or was not disclosed in the permit application.

The bill also would prohibit any discharge into state waters for a pollutant if the EPA has not established a health advisory standard.

If the EPA has established a health standard under the Toxic Substance Control Act, the permit must comply with the most stringent standard.

The Environmental Management Commission would be allowed to suspend a permit immediately if it discovered a pollutant was directly or indirectly discharged into state waters not authorized by a permit.

To apply for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit (NPDES), the applicant would have to disclose any emerging chemicals that don’t have an established discharge standard

Polluters would provide filtration for water supplies contaminated as a result of an unauthorized pollutant discharge. And the commission could assess the cost of investigation, inspection or monitoring that revealed a violation and assess the cost for removing, correcting or updating the adverse affects to the polluter.

If the DEQ finds water or air pollution that creates an emergency the DEQ secretary, with agreement from the governor, could order the air or water polluter to reduce or discontinue air contaminant or water discharge immediately.

If a permit holder causes or permits discharge of a pollutant not authorized by their permit, the DEQ secretary can order them to provide and maintain water filtration or treatment to remove the pollutant.

The $14 million for the DEQ would include $7 million for 39 full-time employees to analyze data on PFAs including GenX, identify potential contamination sources and to address the NPDES permit backlog, $4.5 million to streamline the permit process by providing online access and permits tracking, $1.5 million to upgrade the DEQ Reedy Creek Laboratory, $1 million for equipment to test discharges for emerging compounds, $250,000 to partially restore DEQ funding eliminated through staff reduction and $536,000 for DHHS to hire a medical risk assessor, toxicologist, epidemiologist and public health educator.

Republican Sens. Bill Rabon of Southport, Michael Lee of Wilmington and Wesley Meredith of Fayetteville submitted Senate Bill 724 and Republican Reps. Frank Iler of Oak Island, Ted Davis and Holly Grange of Wilmington and William Brisson of Dublin submitted House Bill 972 on May 17. The bills are the same to establish the Water Safety Act, which would authorize the governor to require a facility to cease all operations resulting in production of a pollutant.

The act says the decision would have to be based on certain circumstances, including the facility would have to have an NPDES permit and received more than one notice of violation within a two year period, unauthorized discharges of PFAS into the air or groundwater that resulted in a violation of Federal drinking water standards or health goals established by DHHS, and DEQ has been unable to stop further unauthorized discharges within one year from the time the department first learned of the unauthorized discharges.

If the act becomes law it would expire December 31, 2020.

The Republican bill would also require permanent replacement of water supplies for households where the drinking water wells were contaminated by PFAS including GenX.

The polluter would be required to establish and replacement water supply by either establishing a connection to a public water supply or providing a whole house filtration system along with periodic required maintenance for the system.

The act would provide $2 million to the DEQ to create a PFAS recovery fund to provide the alternative permanent water supply for households with drinking water well contamination. If the polluter refuses to pay a reimbursement, the DEQ can file an action for reimbursement in the superior court of the county in which the funds were spent.

The DEQ’s Division of Water Resources would receive $450,000 for grants to the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority to take samples of finished drinking water at the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant to test the levels of GenX and other PFAS, 1,4-dioxane, total organic halogens and proxies of wastewater contaminants including sucralose and pharmaceuticals, while also testing the effectiveness of ion exchange and activated carbon technologies for treatment of PFAS.

The act would require DEQ to develop a plan for remediation of groundwater and surface water contamination by PFAS.

It would allocate $537,000 to purchase a mass spectrometer to perform analysis of water samples.

It also directs DHHS to consult with the EPA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to collaborate with faculty experts at North Carolina’s public and private universities to establish health goals for PFAs including GenX.

The act would appropriate $8 million for the board of governors of the University of North Carolina to allocate to the collaboratory.

The collaboratory would coordinate and conduct analysis of emerging contaminants including GenX and PFAs, 1,4-dioxane and other contaminants at all public water supply surface water intakes and one public water supply well to establish a water quality baseline for all sampling and provide the report of their results no later than July 1, 2019.

The collaboratory would also begin reporting quarterly to the Environmental Review Commission, DEQ and DHHS starting Oct. 1.

The bill would provide DHHS with $530,000 to establish a water health and safety unit to assess the toxicity and impact on human health from PFAs.

DEQ would receive $1,300,000 to use $613,000 four water quality sampling, $200,000 to address NPDES permit backlogs, $230,000 to sample GenX and PFAS in the atmosphere and $279,000 to sample contaminants in groundwater, wells, soil and sediment.

Another $479,000 would be appropriated for DEQ to perform additional sampling statewide.

“Their bill gives far less money to DEQ but instead diverts it to what is called the collaboratory at UNC. I have an objection with it because they don’t have police power. They don’t have the ability to stop the polluters,” Butler said. “And my fear is it will slow (the process) down even further.

“Keeping in mind that they have had a veto-proof supermajority since before GenX was discovered, if they had an intention to do this they could have done it long ago. But just coincidentally, within hours of our bill being filed, theirs was filed. And so it’s a little curious as far as the timing is concerned.”

Brian Slattery is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or bslattery@brunswickbeacon.com.