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Thursday, January 8, 2009

How Hard Is This Puzzle?
A Guest Commentary by Fern Shubert

Guest Commentary

How Hard Is This Puzzle?
by Fern Shubert

How Hard Is This Puzzle?

A few months ago I stumbled on an interesting puzzle quite by accident. When writing “Ponzi schemes, bubbles and fraud” (The County Edge, August 22, 2008), I was looking at a Google Earth picture of River Dunes and noticed that trees near an area with serious erosion appeared to be dying for no obvious reason. In seeking to understand the erosion, I discovered the people of Eastern North Carolina may be just as endangered as those trees.

When the fresh water in our rivers, including the underground streams, flows to the coast it encounters the salt water of the ocean. The fresh water is what keeps the salt water out of the rivers and aquifers in the East. If the flow of fresh water diminishes, salt water can move farther inland.

Wells are an important source of water for many people throughout the state. While some wells draw from underground rivers and streams, a large number of wells in eastern NC draw from aquifers which are like underground lakes. Anyone familiar with aquifers is aware that drawing too much water from an aquifer can actually cause the land to sink (subside) and may cause wells to go dry and have to be dug deeper; an aquifer can be depleted.

When an aquifer containing dissolved substances is depleted, if you reduce the amount of water without removing those substances in the same proportion, you obviously increase the concentration of the substances in the remaining water. Think of the Dead Sea underground; ask yourself why it is called the Dead Sea.

So what is killing the trees? Here are some clues:

Mining – Clue #1

“Loss of water supplies because of mining often leads to severe hardships for the supply users, with a resultant need to haul in water from outside sources or to replace lost supplies with deeper wells where appropriate. . . companies will often replace such lost supplies with new wells, to keep good relationships with surface-land owners and to avoid lawsuits. . .lawsuits usually result when there is major disagreement about the cause or source for a water loss problem. . .” (From a study of aquifer dewatering in West Virginia)

The Artist Van Gogh – Clue #2

“Artists are familiar with paint colors named “cadmium blue” and “cadmium red” . . . They may not realize cadmium is a highly toxic heavy metal. The mental illness of Van Gogh and many other famous artists is believed to have been caused by cadmium poisoning.” (The Everything Parent's Guide to Children with ADD/ADHD, By Linda Sonna, pg 53)

“Cadmium has no constructive purpose in the human body. Cadmium and its compounds are extremely toxic even in low concentrations, and will bioaccumulate in organisms and ecosystems. . . . Environmental exposure to cadmium has been particularly problematic in Japan where many people have consumed rice that was grown in cadmium contaminated irrigation water. This phenomena is known under the name Itai-itai disease . . . . Some sources of phosphate in fertilizers contain Cadmium in amounts of up to 100 mg/kg, which can lead to an increase in the concentration of Cadmium in soil . . . .” (Wikipedia)

Bureaucratese – Clue #3

“DWR [Division of Water Resources] has invested well over one million dollars and many person hours since 1998 to improve the monitoring well network throughout the state, and especially in the central coastal plain area . . . Monitoring stations are drilled to allow us to see both the extent of the over-drafting situation and the recovery of water levels as investments in
alternative water supplies come to fruition. . .they are positioned so as to provide a more detailed picture of the cone of depression beneath the CCP in each of the major aquifers. . . Chloride concentrations are now measured on a subset of network wells . . .”

“For the most part, conditions have worsened in the CCPCUA.” (Central Coastal Plain Capacity Use Area Assessment Report, August, 2008)

Translated into plain English, the problem DWR is monitoring in the CCPCUA has many parts including subsidence, salt water encroachment, and poisonous concentrations of naturally occurring elements. So what caused the problem and why have state officials and major papers failed to adequately warn the general public?

Global Warming?

While some see rising sea water levels due to climate change as a major threat to oceanfront property around the world, not just in NC, an August 2007 Conference Report prepared by The Nicholas Institute at Duke University notes that “North Carolina’s coast is among the most vulnerable . . .[because] Over 1.2 million acres in North Carolina are below one meter in elevation. Further, North Carolina’s coastal sea level rise is effectively double the global average because of land subsidence at the coast.”

I’m told that some land in eastern North Carolina that used to be farmed is now wetland unsuitable for farming. Residential property owners up and down the coast feel threatened, and taxpayers throughout the state are being called on to repair roads like Highway 12 which are under attack from the ocean. But how much of the problem is rising water and how much is falling land? The costs of subsidence in North Carolina are easily placed in the billions by the Nicholas Institute report.

And what is causing the subsidence? Could it be a major dewatering operation associated with mining?

Redneck Environmentalist Blames PCS Mine and Politicians

Dale Swiggett has been trying to alert the public to the danger posed by contaminated water in eastern North Carolina for months, and he has not minced words or hidden behind bureaucratese. The major papers have ignored a major story.

I first became aware of Swiggett in July 2008 when I received a copy of a notice he paid to have published in Pamlico County. It said “serious issues now exist regarding the quality of Pamlico County drinking water and public health. . . Please accept this letter as notice of this immediate crisis of health, life and death for the citizens of Pamlico County.”

In subsequent emails he explicitly linked the PCS mine and its large withdrawals of water from the Castle Hayne Aquifer to many problems. Swiggett strongly suggests the lack of state action is due to a number of prominent individuals, including political figures and government employees, whom he has been naming in his Environmental Corruption Deck of Cards. For example, he assigned the Queen of Spades to Leah Devlin, NC State Health Director.

The Coastal Federation knew in 2001 that “decades of mining have caused levels of cadmium in reclaimed soils and ponds to concentrate at more than 300 times background levels” (NC Coastal Federation Press Release, October 23, 2001) yet Swiggett alleges he was offered mine waste to use as fill in 2006 and says that was so common many driveways in the area glow in the dark.

On December 29th a retired Hyde County engineer, Glenn Hockney, filed a $500,000,000 civil suit against PCS Phosphate for damages caused to the people of Hyde County. “In the complaint, Hockney also blames “State of North Carolina Environmental Departments” for a failure “to protect Hyde County People.” He asks for an immediate court order to stop all PCS
pumping from the aquifer, an amount Hockney contends averages 78 million gallons per day.” (Pamlico News, January 6, 2008)

When contacted by a reporter for the Pamlico News, a spokesperson for the mine said “We cannot comment because we have not yet been served with the lawsuit,” an interesting response since the company had already scheduled a meeting January 5, 2009, with Hockney and a DENR employee, apparently to try to address Hockney’s concerns.

Oh yes, and on January 5, 2009, the Raleigh News and Observer announced “Leah Devlin, the longtime state health director, is retiring.”