RALEIGH — An array of provisions aimed at stepping up state monitoring of emerging contaminants have been rolled into the Senate budget plan released this week.
They include the creation of a new group within the Department of Environmental Quality charged with investigating emerging contaminants, more funding for the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory for its PFAS Testing Network of researchers and tighter requirements for reporting on the use of firefighting foam that contains per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances.
The provisions, along with the rest of the mammoth budget bill, moved closer to passage Tuesday after the measure was approved on a voice vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Senate Finance Committee was scheduled to take up the bill Wednesday morning with floor votes in the Senate expected over the next two days.
The budget process, delayed by snags in negotiations between House and Senate leaders over the total amount of spending, is about a month behind schedule.
The House is expected to move fairly quickly on its version and a final version could be headed to the governor’s office mid-July. Gov. Roy Cooper, who released his own version of the budget in April, has already raised objections to several aspects of the Senate plan.
While there is likely to be a vigorous back and forth over the final version of the budget, the PFAS studies and firefighting foam regulations are among the consensus items in the plans.
Collaboratory studies, firefighting foam
The Senate’s budget includes sections of the 2021 Water Safety Act, a bill introduced earlier in the session by Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, with several PFAS related provisions.
Provisions from the Water Safety Act in the Senate budget proposal include $15 million to continue a testing and monitoring for PFAS and other emerging contaminants by a network of researchers under the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory. Of that, $10 million is earmarked for deployment of three pilot filtration projects. One project would go to a public water system that draws from the Cape Fear River, one would go to a public system that discharges into the river and the third would go to a system that draws water from either the Pee Dee or Castle Hayne aquifer.
Another provision directs the collaboratory to continue work developing a statewide registry and inventory tracking the use of aqueous firefighting foam, known as AFFF, that contains PFAS compounds and tightens the reporting requirement for firefighting operations.
The legislature wants to see the initial registry and online reporting portal for use of the foam in place by July 1, 2022.
Lee’s AFFF provisions track much of House Bill 355, which passed the House 112-0 in the first week of May. But the Senate stops short of the full House plan, which would ban the use of foam with PFAS for most training and testing and tighten requirements for containment and disposal of the compounds.
The testing and training ban would be the first legislated restrictions of PFAS in the state. The ban is likely to become one of many differences the two chambers will have to work out in the final budget discussion.
Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear, one of several groups advocating for action on PFAS, said Lee should consider amending the bill to include the ban that’s in the House bill.
Donovan said there are safer aqueous firefighting foam alternatives and noted that the federal government banned the use of foams containing PFAS by the military for training purposes in 2020 and for all uses by 2024.
The Senate also allocates $975,000 for 10 new positions at the Department of Environmental Quality to make up a new investigative Emerging Compounds Unit under the Division of Water Resources and another $200,000 for two new positions to continue the emerging contaminants statewide mapping program.
Lee said the new unit at the Division of Water Resources would be a “quick-response unit” to coordinate work on emerging compounds.
Donovan said the funds for DEQ fall short of what’s needed.
“The senate budget is a small step forward regarding PFAS funding for DEQ,” Donovan, said in an email response to Coastal Review Tuesday. “However, NC has some of the worst PFAS pollution in the nation and this budget simply doesn’t cut it.”