Environment

More schools around the state are flying color-coded flags to let students and staff know about poor air quality conditions. The flags correspond with the Air Quality Index. Health officials say people with breathing sensitivities should be careful on code orange, red, or purple days. Allison Davis with the E-P-A says the Triangle usually gets several code orange days each summer.

Ari Friedlaender with Humpback whale in Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica
Alison Stimpert, University of Hawaii

  Duke scientists are finding record numbers of humpback whales feeding on krill on the Western Antarctic Peninsula. A new report shows scientists observed more than 300 whales in a bay in May 2009. Scientists say a sheet of ice should have prevented whales from feeding on krill by that time of year. But Duke’s Ari Friedlaender says climate change is shortening the winter season and ice is forming slowly. So the krill are exposed for feeding.

A dam breach in Moore County didn't put the public in danger. But it did serve as a reminder of the many dams in North Carolina that could be more dangerous if they failed. Mell Nevils, Chief of the Land Quality Section of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which includes the North Carolina Dam Safety Program, says the dam in Moore County was classified as an "intermediate hazard" meaning there was a likelihood of property damage in the event of a failure.

The Amazon Rain Forest is being threatened by a gold rush. A new study from Duke University shows that surface mining is eating up large chunks of the forest in Peru. Jennifer Swenson is an assistant professor who worked on the project. She says satellite photos help assess how much land is being affected.

Jennifer Swenson: "I looked at two main mining sites that are new and over two years 1800 hectares of primary forest was removed. Think of that in terms of football fields, its actually 4 and a half football fields a day."

There's a new effort underway to reduce pollution in Durham. A number of the city's diesel vehicles have been fitted with emissions reduction equipment similar to that used to cut nitrogen oxide levels from power plants. Stephen Piccot is the Director of The Southern Research Institute and is in charge of the pilot project.

Hog Farm Pollution Tied To Residents' Symptoms

Apr 25, 2011
Spraying hog waste and pig carcass disposal
Larry Baldwin, Neuse River Foundation

  People living near hog farms in the eastern part of the state experience breathing problems when emissions from hog waste are highest - that's from new research done by UNC environmental scientists. 

Epidemiologist Steve Wing from the Gillings School of Global Public Health placed air pollution monitors in communities surrounded by large hog farms. He says one of the most important gasses he measured is hydrogen sulfide. The rotten egg smelling gas is known to be toxic to the nervous and the respiratory systems.  Wing also asked residents to keep diaries of their symptoms. 

NC Shrimp Catch Down This Spring

Apr 22, 2011
White Shrimp
NOAA

  Consumers might notice that there are fewer local shrimp in the market than in other years... that's because fishermen are noticing there are fewer local shrimp in coastal waters.  Shrimpers blame the weather. Bill Rice is a seafood dealer in Carteret County and heads a fishermen's co-op there. He says the absence of white shrimp is probably due to waters that are staying cool this spring.

President Obama has declared disaster areas in central and eastern North Carolina. Residents in 18 counties can apply for disaster relief funds today on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's website. 

State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler toured several eastern counties yesterday to get a handle on the damage. He says most of the damage was to infrastructure, equipment and livestock. And that will be expensive for farmers to replace.

All flags will be placed at half-staff for the remainder of the work week at state government and university buildings.

Shaw University's historic marker propped on the ground after storm.
Leoneda Inge

  Clean-up crews and emergency management teams are working over-time in a 20 county area of the state.  This is where most of the damage occurred after those deadly and destructive tornadoes over the weekend.

In Wake County – officials are already beginning to put a price tag on the cost of the damage. 

 State and federal officials are assessing the extent of the damage caused by tornadoes in North Carolina on Saturday. Jessica Jones reports from Raleigh.

Downed trees and power lines have turned downtown Raleigh into a ghost town. Cleanup crews could be seen this afternoon clearing away branches and other debris. Raleigh's mayor, Charles Meeker, says even though tornadoes cut a small swath through the city, they were very destructive. 

Wake County Emergency Management workers continue disaster relief efforts this morning. Saturday's tornadoes and severe thunderstorms left many homeless. Emergency Operations Center manager Steve Newton says his first priority is helping those residents start the recovery process.

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources is evaluating a number of sites around the state deemed hazardous because of spilled dry-cleaning solvent. There's a spill in Carrboro that originated from a dry-cleaner in the 70s that's no longer there. John Powers is the director of DENR's Dry Cleaning Solvent Clean Up Act team. He says the first thing they do when a site is volunteered for clean-up is to evaluate water to find out the extent of the contamination.

Environmental groups are urging the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to reconsider approval of a new design for nuclear power plants in North and South Carolina. The AP-1000 Oversight Group filed a petition with the NRC. The group argues that the AP-1000 reactor design is flawed and should not be used at Shearon-Harris and other sites. John Runkle is the attorney for the group. 

Red Wolf Pups Possible

Apr 6, 2011
Red Wolf, animal,
Museum of Life and Science

Animal keepers at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham are keeping their fingers crossed that one of their red wolves is pregnant. The red wolf is extremely rare. There’re only about 300 estimated to be alive today. 2 of them are at the museum. And keepers have been excited the past few weeks because the female wolf has changed her behavior and and is looking a bit chubbie.

North Carolina's first Invasive Plants Awareness Week begins today. State officials are encouraging residents to keep aggressive vines like kudzu and wisteria out of their gardens. Experts say invasive plants can wipe out large areas of vegetation native to North Carolina.  Debbie Crane of the North Carolina Nature Conservancy says they can also deal a blow to the state's tourism industry.

Progress Energy will shut down a coal-fired plant near Lumberton six years ahead of schedule.

Progress Energy spokesman Drew Elliot says the plant has provided more than a half century of reliable service:

Bald Eagle, bird, animal,
West Hills Veterinary Center, Henderson, NC

The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission are investigating the shooting of a mature bald eagle in Warren County near the Virginia border. They're offering a $2,500 reward for anyone with information that leads to a conviction.

Harp seal on Harkers Island Feb 23
NC Dept of Cultural Resources

Several adult harp seals have been spotted along the North Carolina coast. Harp seals normally live in icy regions in the Arctic and Canada. Small populations have been moving down the East Coast in recent years, but this is the furthest south the seals have been spotted.

UNC Research Points To New Ozone Standard

Mar 18, 2011

On warm days like today, pollution in the air can produce excess ozone near the ground. And air quality officials often issue ozone alerts - warning people with breathing problems to reduce activity or stay indoors.  But new research from UNC indicates the current acceptable ozone levels established by the Environmental Protection Agency might actually be too high. 

Duke Energy

Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers says his company will continue to pursue building new nuclear plants in the Carolinas. Rogers spoke yesterday during a hearing of the North Carolina Utilities commission. Rogers was discussing the development of the Lee Nuclear Station in South Carolina. Duke is asking to spend $285 million to continue to develop the plant. Some of the money will likely come from a rate increase on North Carolina customers.

A controversial beach renourishment project is closer to getting underway in Nags Head on the Outer Banks. Town officials are lining up financing and preparing a contract for a company to perform the work. They say pumping dredged sand onto beaches suffering from erosion is a good way to protect the area's valuable shoreline. Nags Head Town Manager Cliff Ogburn says if it goes forward, the additional sand could preserve the beach front for up to a decade:

Fix A Leak Week

Mar 14, 2011
The EPA's Fix a Leak Week
epa.gov

Local utilities officials in the Triangle are encouraging residents to check for plumbing leaks in their homes this week. Durham and Cary have partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency in the "Fix a Leak Week" campaign. It works to inform utilities customers about how to check for leaks and step up efforts to conserve water. Cary's director of public works and utilities Steve Brown says toilet leaks are the most common:

A brown pelican that ended up in Canada after after being blown off course by Hurricane Earl has arrived in North Carolina. A wildlife organization in Nova Scotia nursed the injured seabird after it was found there last September. The species' natural habitat generally extends from the coast of northern Virginia to Peru. The pelican, nicknamed Ralph, arrived at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport this morning after he was deemed healthy enough to travel. 

Clinic supervisor Maria Rush says the first step in Ralph's rehabilitation is reintroducing him to his own kind.

Section of off-road Greenway in North Carolina
Dave Connelly, greenway.org

The East Coast Greenway Alliance is moving its national offices to Durham this spring to work on trails in the South. The Greenway is a network of biking, jogging, and walking trails that run from Maine to the Florida Keys. More than 80 percent of trails in North Carolina follow roadways.

Emergency officials are meeting today in Raleigh to plan for a possible energy disaster. The two-day event is being sponsored by the Department of Energy and includes representatives from 12 states across the southeast as well as Puerto Rico and The Virgin Islands. James Mercer of the Raleigh Emergency Management Office is coordinating the event.

Pisgah National Forest
usda.gov

A forestry law pushed by civic and business leaders in Asheville one hundred years ago is being celebrated today. The Weeks Act allowed the federal government to purchase private land for the establishment of National Forests. sg

James Lewis is a historian at The Forest History Society. He says what started in Asheville has grown to almost 20 million acres nationwide. 

weather
noaa.gov

North Carolina's Severe Weather Awareness week is underway. Meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Raleigh say it's the time of year when the threat of thunderstorms and other severe weather returns to the area. Among this week's events is a statewide tornado drill Wednesday morning. Meteorologist Darin Figurskey says seasonal weather changes can cause twisters to develop during the spring and summer months.

A wildfire in Cumberland County has destroyed about 1,000 acres of woods since Monday afternoon. The blaze continues to burn about five miles south of the Cedar Creek community in Fayetteville. State officials say firefighters are successfully controlling the fire. But Brian Haines of the North Carolina Forest Service says it's too early to tell exactly when crews will have the fire fully contained.

Wake Technical Community College is holding a two-day bio-diesel workshop this week. Students will learn how to convert waste vegetable oil into bio-diesel using the college’s new 40-gallon processor. Rich Cregar, an instructor in Automotive Systems Technology, started the course four years ago as part of a state-wide project to incorporate sustainable technologies into the curriculum of North Carolina’s community colleges.

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