Environmental News from Around the Region

Shady Valley Residents Speaking out on Pesticide Use

By Meg Holden

Shady Valley, Tennessee is small, rural and quiet—quiet until now, that is. The recently formed organization Shady Valley Neighbors for Clean Air and Water is speaking out against environmental injustice in their community, and it isn’t so quiet in the valley now.

B&W Quality Growers rented land in the Shady Valley area to grow arugula and other greens, but recent events have community members wondering about B&W’s growing practices. The Shady Valley Neighbors for Clean Air and Water believe that the wells drilled by B&W for irrigation may have lowered the water table in the valley, causing sinkholes along US 421.

Residents are also concerned about the impact of B&W’s use of metam sodium, a pesticide listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as highly toxic and a likely carcinogen. Shady Valley Neighbors for Clean Air and Water president Tony Barry stated in a press release that between 30 and 50 people, including children, were exposed to metam sodium fumes after an application of the chemical to Shady Valley fields by Highland Soil Fumigation Company on behalf of B&W. Shortly after the application, residents reported respiratory problems, headaches, nausea, severe coughing and blisters.

Both B&W and Highland Soil Fumigation Company have been fined by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and the EPA is currently investigating the metam sodium misapplication. The Tennessee Forestry Commission visited the area and warned the growers to control their application of metam sodium.

The Shady Valley Neighbors for Clean Air and Water will continue to monitor the water table and B&W’s arugula fields and growing practices and hope to prevent further unsafe practices.

Nuclear Dumpsite threatens Asheville Residents … for the second time

By Meg Holden

In 1988, a North Carolina Geological Survey determined that Sandy Mush, less than 30 minutes from Asheville, would be an unsuitable dumpsite for nuclear waste. Now, the Federal Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future is again considering western North Carolina as a location for a permanent disposal site.
As the campaign for alternative energy continues, nuclear power is frequently considered an option to replace coal and petroleum. The persistent problem with nuclear power is its by-product—the highly radioactive waste that must be contained indefinitely.

A group of concerned residents have created a coalition called The Mountain Protectors to oppose the possibility of locating a dumpsite in western North Carolina. Parties interested in The Mountain Protectors can call 828-301-6683. More information on nuclear hazards in the southeast is available at nirs.org/southeast/sehome.htm

White-Nose Syndrome Spreads to North Carolina

By Tim W. Jackson

Insect-eating bats in the United States likely save the agricultural industry at least $3 billion a year, yet bats are often overlooked as economically important, non-domesticated animals in North America.

Affecting bats from New England through Virginia, the disease has now moved into North Carolina (confirmed in Avery and Yancey counties thus far).
“Bats are saving us big bucks by gobbling up insects that eat or damage our crops,” said Paul Cryan, a U.S. Geological Survey research scientist. “These bats deserve help.”

In March, the Western North Carolina Alliance in Asheville hosted a panel to discuss white-nose syndrome, how it affects bats and what we can do to help.

A disease believed to be caused by the fungus Geomyces destructans, white-nose syndrome is estimated to have killed more than a million bats in the eastern United States since 2006. White-nose syndrome was discovered five years ago, but as of now there is no treatment or cure.

Steps taken to monitor bat populations and inform the public about white-nose syndrome include: closing caves and mines, information sessions with the public on how to avoid and minimize the spread of the disease and the development of protocols for decontamination of equipment and clothing for researchers.

“If anyone notices unusual behavior from bats, like flying during the day, sick or dead bats, they should report these observations to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission in their area,” said Susan Loeb, research ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service.

Panel experts expressed concern that the disease can kill up to 100 percent of bat colonies during hibernation and could lead to the extinction of numerous bat species.

To report abnormal bat behavior in your area contact the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Office at 919-707-0050 or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at 828–258–3939.

NC Greenlights 150 Turbine Wind Farm

North Carolina regulators have given the go-ahead for a 300-megawatt wind farm to be located on private farm lands in the eastern counties of Pasquotank and Perquimans near Elizabeth City, N.C. The wind farm will produce enough electricity to power between 55,000 and 100,000 homes. The Iberdrola Renewables Inc. wind farm will be the first of its kind in North Carolina as Duke Energy, which operates 1000-megawatts of wind energy production outside the state, has officially withdrawn its proposal for a three turbine/9-megawatt offshore wind farm.

Sewage Pollutes Tenn. Waterways

Local officials are still unable to determine the long-term environmental and economic effects of a Gatlinburg, Tenn., sewage spill in early April of this year. The spill killed two workers and dumped an estimated four million gallons of untreated sewage into the nearby Little Pigeon River—part of the Smoky Mountains National Park—after a holding tank wall collapsed on site at the Veolia Water North America plant. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is conducting extensive sampling of the river both upstream and down. Signs lining the river warn of elevated levels of fecal (sewage) bacteria and advise residents to avoid swimming or fishing. Long-term health effects are yet to be determined. Visit: health.state.tn.us.

River Value Gets a Boost

American Rivers was recently selected to oversee a $1.8 million dollar grant for projects aimed at improving the communities and rivers in the Potomac Highlands. The highlands cover areas in Penn., Va., Md. and W.Va. The grant will be divided among ten projects focused on rebuilding the ecological resources, services and value of the Potomac Highlands, which suffer from severe ecological damage. As part of the Mid-Atlantic Highlands Program, these projects are aimed at restoring areas of significant cultural and ecological importance. Visit: epa.gov/reg3esd1/highlands-plan.html.

Flying Back onto Endangered Species List

On March 25 of this year, the Northern flying squirrel was ruled back on the endangered species list by a federal court decision. The species relies on mature and old-growth forests in Appalachia such as the Monongahela National Forest of West Virginia. Logging, road building and oil and gas development contribute largely to the species’ dwindling numbers. In a 2008 decision, after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service failed to address population decline, the squirrel was unceremoniously dropped from the endangered species list. The new ruling will go a long way to afford the squirrel, as well as its surrounding habitat, the protections it needs to recover. Visit: saveblackwater.org.

Blue Ridge Musicians Honored

On June 11, five outstanding artists will be inducted into the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame. This year’s Hall of Fame inductees are singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris, dancer Willard Watson, banjo player Jens Kruger, songwriter Jim Lauderdale and fiddler Jim Shumate. Located in Wilkesboro, N.C., the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame promotes and protects the musical heritage of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Exhibits and Hall of Fame inductions define and celebrate the musical history of the Blue Ridge, including regional music and musicians in all genres. Visit: blueridgemusichalloffame.com.

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