Hurricane Florence and Evacuation Notices

Senator Lee’s District 9 Newsletter

Update: Hurricane Florence and Evacuation Notices

Please read the below information from New Hanover County Emergency Management regarding Hurricane Florence, evacuation orders, and shelter information:
At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, September 11, a shelter specifically for New Hanover County residents will open at theSoutheast Raleigh Magnet High School, 2600 Rock Quarry Rd, Raleigh, NC 27610. Residents of New Hanover County who are planning to go to a shelter are strongly encouraged to relocate to this inland location that is being provided by our state partners. New Hanover County staff will be on site to assist at the shelter.

Residents of Carolina Beach and Kure Beach are under a mandatory evacuation order. Wrightsville Beach will have a mandatory evacuation beginning at 8 a.m. on Wednesday. Residents of Wilmington, and all of New Hanover County who live in low-lying areas where flooding and storm surge are a factor, are strongly encouraged to relocate to locations inland.

All New Hanover County residents and visitors should evacuate or be in a safe location before 8 p.m. on Wednesday, September 12.

Buses will be available today for all county residents at 3:30 p.m. and will depart by 4 p.m. to the Raleigh shelter. Buses will leave from the west parking lot of the Government Center, located at 230 Government Center Drive.

“This shelter in Raleigh should be the first shelter that our residents consider when evacuating,” said Emergency Management Director Steven Still. “Residents who are at risk of flooding and surge should heed the warnings and evacuate.”

This Raleigh shelter is a pet co-location facility and will accept cats and dogs (no exotic animals). Those seeking emergency shelter should bring their own blankets/pillows, prescription medications and other necessary items. No alcohol, illegal drugs, or weapons are permitted. Pet owners should bring their dog or cat in crates, along with pet food. There will be limited food service available for people seeking shelter.

New Hanover County Emergency Management is activating the Emergency Operations Center and Joint Information Center at noon today. Anyone with questions about evacuating or shelter openings can call the public information hotline telephone number beginning at noon today at (910) 798-6800. The latest information regarding Hurricane Florence can be found on the website.

Residents and visitors are urged to complete their hurricane preparation and evacuation plans, as Hurricane Florence nears.

Please also sign up for New Hanover County emergency alerts here.

NC Emergency Management has a website with information on Hurricane Florence here:

I also greatly encourage you to download the ReadyNC app to your smartphone as it provides details on how to prepare an emergency kit, where shelters are open, and other essential information. ReadyNC also may be accessed at

Storm updates also will be available via N.C. Emergency Management’s social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook.

Are toxic chemicals in our drinking water? Statewide testing should let us know.

August 06, 2018 03:34 PM

North Carolina’s leading university science researchers will try to find out if water supplies in the state have been contaminated with toxic compounds like GenX, an unregulated chemical discovered in the Cape Fear River last year.

Over the next year, each municipality in the state will have its water tested at the point where the water enters the public system. In addition, each municipality will pick one well that supplies public drinking water to test. Air testing will also be conducted across the state because emissions can settle on the ground. It isn’t known yet how many locations will have air testing.

The study will lay the groundwork for long-term monitoring of changes in the state’s water quality. If researchers find there is a threat, they will try to determine how much of an impact it has and find ways to protect public health.

State environmental regulators looking into the presence of GenX in the Cape Fear River determined the Chemours chemical company discharged it from its factory south of Fayetteville. GenX is a chemical used to make non-stick cookware and other products. The state Department of Environmental Quality issued notices of regulatory violations and has asked a judge to impose stronger measures requiring the company to eliminate or reduce air and water contamination.
As The News & Observer reported earlier this year, a federal class-action lawsuit contends Chemours knew the chemical was dangerous but secretly dumped it into nearby waters anyway. And an environmental group has sued the state environmental agency alleging it has not exercised its authority to order the company to immediately halt the pollution without going to court.

DEQ says as a result of its investigation GenX and two other compounds are no longer being discharged into the river, and water quality is now deemed to be within state health standards.

The municipal testing is being paid for with money from the state budget. Legislators put an additional $5 million into the state budget this year for staff and equipment for the N.C. Policy Collaboratory, a research and policy center at UNC. The focus of the study will be on drinking wells, chemical compound removal and the impact on air quality.

Researchers will be looking for chemicals that are classified as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and include GenX, which can be toxic. The state funding will pay for grants to more than 20 researchers at universities throughout North Carolina.

“This research model is the first of its kind for any state in the U.S., and we’re hopeful that it could motivate other states to develop similar research programs to study PFAS in the environment,” Jason Surratt, a professor with a background in environmental chemistry, said in an email.

Surratt will be the lead investigator for the study, which will be managed by the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. He said water and air samples will be collected multiple times from each location over the next 18 months.

Five research teams and an advisory committee will be comprised of faculty from N.C. State University, Duke University, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Wilmington, NC A&T, East Carolina University and UNC-Charlotte.

Two internationally recognized experts in emerging water contaminants will be co-chairs of the committee: Detlef Knappe, a professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at NCSU, and Lee Ferguson, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke University.

It was Knappe and his team that found high concentrations of industrial chemicals in the Cape Fear, including GenX, and published their findings in an academic journal. Ferguson and fellow Nicholas School of the Environment professor Heather Stapleton in December said they have found the GenX-related chemicals in Jordan Lake, two feeder streams and in Cary’s tap water.

Cary responded with its own tests and found that the contaminates were not sufficiently elevated to cause alarm and that the water was safe to drink.

The study will make periodic reports to the legislature and make its final report in December 2019.



Lee Ferguson shows a schematic of the data processing system for a new state-funded water-testing system in his Gross Hall office.

Screening program hopes to avoid the next GenX contamination problem

With some help from a Duke University analytical chemist and his million-dollar lab instrument, the state of North Carolina is about to launch one of the world’s most ambitious testing programs to detect chemical contaminants in drinking water.

Lee Ferguson, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, will not only be helping do the analysis, he helped design the system and get state government funding to support it.

After the discovery of a chemical contaminant called GenX in the Cape Fear River and Wilmington’s drinking water two years ago, Ferguson said citizens were asking their legislators “is my water safe to drink? That level of interest led people to ask the question, ‘what else is there?’”

With $5 million from a bill passed by the legislature in June, the Polyfluorinated Alkyl Substance Testing (PFAST) network will look at the chemistry of about 350 municipal water supplies over the next year, including both surface waters and well water. Ideally, they can look at each source at least once during the year, Ferguson said.

The program will be administered by The North Carolina Policy Collaboratory, a state-funded effort to link the expertise of faculty in the UNC system with the state government. The Collaboratory will award grants to more than 20 researchers at North Carolina universities to conduct the testing and begin work on related research projects. The PFAST Network will be headquartered at UNC- Chapel Hill within the Gillings School of Public Health.

“We are grateful to the legislature for this important opportunity to collaborate with universities and public agencies across North Carolina to obtain critical evidence needed to protect the health of North Carolinians,” said Barbara K. Rimer, Dean of the Gillings School.  “With the outstanding university teams and comprehensive strategy that will be undertaken, North Carolina will lead the country in this kind of research.”

In the startup phase of the testing program, water samples will be brought to Duke and NC State University to scan them broadly for the presence of polyfluorinated “emerging contaminants,” man-made chemicals in water whose risk to human health and the environment isn’t fully understood. The latest mass spectrometers will be used to search for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) of all kinds.

GenX, for example, is a PFAS with unknown health risks. The substance is known to be toxic and corrosive, but there isn’t a lot of data about how it would affect human health at the concentrations found in the Cape Fear River. A byproduct of Teflon and other non-stick coatings, it is believed to have been discharged into the Cape Fear from a Fayetteville chemical plant since at least the 1980s. NC State University researchers are working on a health study with 300 Wilmington residents now.

Legislators who were being contacted by constituents asking if their water was safe to drink were a receptive audience, Ferguson said. At first he was called to testify before a sub-committee, but before long, he found himself having one-on-one conversations with lawmakers in Raleigh.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been involved in this kind of thing,” he said. “We were talking about GenX, but I was explaining that we have the technology to do what is called ‘non-targeted analysis,’” Ferguson said, in which the latest kinds of mass spectrometers can sift through a sample for the signatures of hundreds of known and unknown compounds.

This approach to water testing doesn’t decide ahead of time what contaminants to look for; it’s what is known as ‘non-targeted analysis,’ and it looks for every compound in the water.

A typically casual professor, he found himself wearing a suit and tie “and being dragged around the corridors of the legislative office building talking to people about mass spectrometry.”

Ferguson said the ideal model he had in mind is a system on the Rhine River in Europe which is monitored daily for emerging contaminants to safeguard the drinking water of 20 million people. “This is the model of how it could be done,” Ferguson said.

Duke had recently purchased the latest mass spectrometry equipment for toxic exposures research being done by Ferguson and Heather Stapleton, the Dan and Bunny Gabel Associate Professor of Environmental Ethics and Sustainable Environmental Management.

“If this had happened five years ago, we would be unprepared,” Ferguson said, because the technology didn’t exist.

It also helps that he and NC State professor Detlef Knappe, who discovered the GenX problem, are internationally recognized experts in emerging contaminants being found in water. “It’s actually very fortunate that North Carolina is the place that this (GenX) happened,” Ferguson said.

The PFAST Network will require water sampling in all regions of the state to establish a baseline for monitoring long-term changes in North Carolina’s water quality. It will also look at chemical compound removal and air quality impacts.

If a problem is identified, the study’s scope includes determining its extent and identifying practical solutions that protect the public from adverse health impacts of these compounds.

Results of the study will be shared with the public on a regular basis, including quarterly reports to the legislature’s Environmental Review Commission and other state and federal regulatory agencies. The study will conclude next fall, and the team will issue its final report to the legislature in December, 2019.

After that, the hope is that a partnership with the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources could be created to continue and perhaps expand the water monitoring program, Ferguson said.

Calling this a needle-in-a-haystack problem doesn’t quite cover it, Ferguson adds. There are 60 million to 80 million organic chemicals, of which at least 85,000 are used industrially in the United States. “Is that the universe of molecules we should care about? Probably not.” But still, only about 200 of those chemicals are regulated, and only about 10,000 have been tested for health effects. “That leaves a lot of chemical space we don’t know about.”

However, during the legislative process, lobbying by industry groups led to some limits on the scope of the testing – the current project focuses only on polyfluoroalkyl substances instead of full non-targeted analysis, for fear of opening a Pandora’s box, Ferguson said. “I learned way more about politics than I ever wanted to know.”

The NC Policy Collaboratory is partnering with Duke’s University Program in Environmental Health to plan a day-long symposium on emerging contaminants Sept. 28 at the Washington Duke Executive Conference Center at Duke.

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