North Carolina fails to adopt national water quality standards for heavy metals — Former state employee to speak out at DENR hearing today

Cat McCue, Communications Director, 434-293-6373

Raleigh — North Carolina is the only southern state that does not meet nationally recommended criteria for controlling toxic heavy metals in surface waters, putting the state’s natural resources and public health at risk, according to Amy Adams, a former supervisor with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources who left the agency this month to join Appalachian Voices, a multi-state non-profit conservation group headquartered in Boone.

Most other states in the U.S. adopted relatively strong numeric standards for measuring lead, copper, chromium and other pollutants in streams and rivers in the 1990s, Adams said. North Carolina’s standards are many times weaker, and in some cases, nonexistent, meaning that wastewater discharge permits issued by DENR are not based on the best available science, nor are they as protective of the public as they should be.

“All North Carolinians deserve clean water, and deserve to know that state officials charged with protecting our water resources are making the best possible decisions,” said Adams. “There’s no reason North Carolina should be lagging this far behind our neighboring states and for this long in adopting the best science to protect our waters.”

Adams addressed officials with the Division of Water Quality, which held a public hearing on North Carolina’s water quality standards, as required every three years by the Environmental Protection Agency under the federal Clean Water Act. It was her first public appearance as an environmental advocate with Appalachian Voices, where she will head up the organization’s North Carolina program.

Adams also urged the agency to regulate methylmercury, the form of mercury that is most toxic to fish and humans. The state currently regulates inorganic mercury, the kind of pollution from coal-fired power plants, for example. When mercury enters water it often converts to methylmercury, which is not regulated in North Carolina.

Adams also advocated for an increase in the required level of “instream flow” when setting pollution limits in discharge permits; the higher the flow of water in a receiving river or stream, the less impact the pollution will have.

A Tarheel native, Adams earned her B.S. in biology and M.A. in environmental science education at East Carolina University. She joined DENR in 2004, rising steadily to become regional supervisor for the Washington region. She left DENR this fall due to what she describes as the “hostile takeover” by political forces.

“The citizens and environment of my home state are in danger. The professionals who staff the agency are so underfunded, stretched so thin, and so demoralized, they’re virtually unable to fulfill their mission. They can’t properly assess permits, do inspections, respond to pollution complaints, or enforce the law.

“Without a voice from outside groups, political forces that oppose strong oversight in the name of public interest will continue to exude undue influence over environmental issues,” she said.


Appalachian Voices is an award-winning, environmental non-profit committed to protecting the natural resources of central and southern Appalachia, focusing on reducing coal’s impact on the region and advancing our vision for a cleaner energy future. Founded in 1997, we are headquartered in Boone, N.C. with offices in Charlottesville, Va.; Nashville, Tn. and Washington, D.C.