Smoke and Mirrors

Rep. Ted Davis's newly formed House Select Committee on River Water Quality will convene again in Raleigh, January 4. It is likely that they will present at this meeting their suggestion for legislation to respond to the so-called GenX crisis. 

The meeting is open to the public and citizens may sign up to comment.  But, since it is unlikely the committee will share their ideas with the public until the meeting convenes, how will the public know what their comments might be? 

There have been rumblings about funding a new scientific monitoring program, which could help scientists identify potentially dangerous chemicals in our water. We wonder if the committee may be thinking of supporting this monitoring program to stage another smokescreen, as they did with HB56 (which also funded science). If they take this action, they could palliate the public into thinking they're doing good work. And, we agree that funding science is indeed good work. BUT, what do you do with the data?  As Dr. Detlaf Knappe said, "That's where the rubber hits the road." 

If they fund this very expensive, indefinite program, and fail to provide the modest funding request by the Dpt. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Dpt. of Health and Human Services (DHHS) they are once again, proving they choose to protect polluters over people. Scientists cannot enforce laws; the DEQ is the only regulatory body in our state with the statutory powers to stop corporate polluters and hold them accountable. 

The monitoring program was presented to the legislature a few weeks ago by Duke scientist, Dr. Lee Ferguson and would employ something called non-targeted analysis. This allows scientists to 'see' all the chemicals in a sample. But, as Ferguson shared at a UNCW workshop last week, the bottleneck is what to do with all that data. 

Ferguson shared with Clean Cape Fear that the analysis will basically provide between 4,000 and 10,000 candidate components for a given sample - meaning, they can 'see' the molecules, but will have to dig into them to figure out what compounds they are forming. He said it's not feasible to analyze every component so they would need to prioritize. One way, he said, would be to set a baseline and check for spikes. Once there is a spike, they would analyze those components and seek to identify the compound they're forming and then seek to identify its source. That's where the science ends and regulation begins - if the regulatory body is not hung up on a backlog of existing permit applications and monitoring requests due to years of cutbacks. 

So what's our suggestion for comments at the Jan. 4 meeting? Fund DEQ! 

Let's hold a mirror up to our legislators and remind them we see through the smoke. And we'll remember it when they're up for re-election.  


Dana SargentComment