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BEAT "In the News" - 2017

From Coastal Review Online
"Biologist on GenX Health Effects: 'It's Toxic'"   
by Trista Talton   12/20/2017

Larry Cahoon of the University of North Carolina Wilmington speaks about GenX Monday during an event in Supply. Photo: Dr. Kristen Colleran/Brunswick Environmental Action Team

How does it affect humans? How does it react in the air? What about the fish that live in the river where it has been discharged for decades?

Even as Chemours faces revocation of its wastewater discharge permit at its Fayetteville Works facility, questions continue to mount about the chemical known as GenX and other chemical compounds the former DuPont plant has been releasing into the Cape Fear River and the air.


Larry Cahoon, a professor of biology and marine biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, posed many of those same questions when he spoke to a group of Brunswick County residents Monday evening in the Brunswick Electric Membership Corp. meeting room. Cahoon said he was not speaking on behalf of the university.

Before he delved into the subject of GenX at the meeting hosted by the Brunswick Environmental Action Team, or BEAT, a Brunswick County-based environmental group, Cahoon made one thing clear: “Let’s get past the idea that it’s harmless.”

He continued, “We’re worried about GenX in our drinking water. It’s toxic. It’s corrosive. We know that.”

What the thousands of Wilmington and Brunswick County residents whose drinking water is contaminated with GenX, Nafion and associated perfluorinated compounds do not know is the health effects of these chemicals within the human body.

“What we haven’t got is a vast set of data yet telling us how it works as a compound,” in humans, Cahoon said. “We don’t know anything about them, but we’re drinking them. I don’t know how you feel about it, but I don’t like being a test subject. These experiments on us have been done without our consent, without our prior knowledge.”

GenX is the commonly used term for perfluoro-2-propoxypropanoic acid, a chemical compound produced to make Teflon, which is used to make nonstick coating surfaces for cookware.

Chemours has been discharging GenX into the Cape Fear since the 1980s.

GenX, like other perfluorinated and polyfluorinated compounds, is poorly studied, generally does not break down in the environment, cannot be removed by most water treatment techniques, can behave strangely in the human body and its health risks are not understood.

There are no federal guidelines for GenX. The North Carolina Division of Health and Human Services has established a health goal of 140 parts per trillion, or ppt.

“Parts per trillion doesn’t sound like much until you do the math,” Cahoon said.

At 140 ppt, that’s 252 molecules of GenX per cell, per liter, he said, which means that every cell in your body has the opportunity to interact with the chemical.

North Carolina State University in Raleigh is conducting a health study of more than 300 Wilmington residents.

This is the first human exposure study, Cahoon said.


That university is also testing treatment systems.

Researchers with UNCW are studying perfluorinated compounds in the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority’s drinking water system.

The North Carolina Division of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, is sampling additional sites and monitoring discharges.

Little remains known about how GenX reacts in air.

The revelation that the chemical has been found in honey has Cahoon theorizing GenX is airborne.

“The aerial transport part of this has not been fully studied at all,” he said. “We don’t know how much of that stuff is moving through the air. We know it is. How far down wind does it go? We need basic data. Where’s the stuff showing up? In what forms? This isn’t just a water issue.”

In mid-October, Chemours reported an air leak at its Fayetteville plant where 125 pounds of chemicals related to GenX were released within a time span of 13 hours.

The company, however, failed to report a spike in GenX levels at the wastewater discharge outfall into the river earlier that month.

In all, the plant discharged GenX into the water or air three times in October, the month after a partial consent order signed in Bladen County Superior Court banned Chemours from discharging GenX, Nafion or associated perfluorinated compounds into the river.

Chemours is required to report a spill to DEQ within 24 hours, a stipulation under the company’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES.

DEQ is in the process of revoking the company’s NPDES permit. The permit was partially suspended Nov. 30.

A 60-day notice is required for the permit revocation. The notice expires Jan. 15, 2018, after which time DEQ can take permanent action against the permit.

The Fayetteville plant produces four different sources of wastewater, Cahoon said, so the permit revocation doesn’t necessarily mean GenX and other compounds will not continue to be released.

“I think legitimate discharge for all this stuff is zero,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that our elected representatives and our state regulators don’t ignore it. We’ve got to make sure they take this seriously.”

From The Brunswick Beacon 
"Professor Flushes Out GenX Details"   
by Laura Lewis   12/19/2017

UNCW biology and marine biology professor Larry Cahoon didn’t mince words or chemical knowledge when outlining the hazards of the perfluorinated compound better known as GenX.

“It’s toxic, it’s corrosive — we know that,” Cahoon said at a meeting of the Brunswick Environmental Action Team on Monday night, outlining byproducts during a slide presentation in a meeting room at Brunswick Electrical Membership Corp.

“We don’t know anything about them, but we’re drinking them,” he said.

He deemed the unknowns about the chemicals “experiments on us that have been done without our consent, without our prior knowledge and actually without a whole lot of forethought on the part of the experimenters, either.”

While amounts of the compounds are being found in tiny “parts per trillion,” Cahoon said the punch line is at “one part per trillion of GenX in water, if you drink that, every cell in your body is getting somewhere between one and two molecules of GenX of its very own for each liter you drink every day.”

Add in all the other compounds that are present in much higher concentrations, “you’re looking at thousands of molecules of perfluorinated compounds bathing every cell in your body with every liter of water you drink every day,” he said. “That’s what a part per trillion comes out to. So don’t be happy about that.”

What did they know?


What did DuPont/Chemours know and when did they know it? That was one of the questions in Cahoon’s slide presentation.

GenX was “discovered” in 1963, back when it was probably called perfluorooctanoic acid (also known as PFOA or C8), Cahoon said.

“According to Chemours at their June 15 meeting, DuPont’s been discharging that stuff into the Cape Fear River since 1980,” he added.

In 2002, DuPont advised the North Carolina Division of Water Quality it had perfluorinated compound (PFC) discharges into the river. In 2009, DuPont decided to produce GenX commercially to replace PFOA or C8 as “this Teflon intermediate,” Cahoon said, outlining how workers and businesses buying the product had to take protective precautions, e.g. using respirators, in handling the unregulated chemical.

In 2015, EPA staff in Research Triangle Park discovered GenX in the Cape Fear River, spurring DuPont to contact the Division of Environmental Quality.

“I don’t know what happened as a result,” Cahoon said. “They kept discharging it.”

In 2016, a document was published explaining how GenX “and other things” were getting through the water treatment process in Wilmington. “That’s the one that popped the cat out of the bag,” Cahoon said, citing a timeline.

Fourteen years prior, in 2002, DuPont had cited “unidentified compounds” in the discharge, which Cahoon deemed “bull—.”

“Do you honestly ask any of us to believe that DuPont can’t identify what’s coming out of their synthesis processes? Are you kidding me?” he said. “They’d have to be idiots. These are the best chemists in the world. They know very well what they should be producing.”

What did enforcement people know? Cahoon said documentation shows “they knew those compounds were being discharged, and they knew that they should have been reported.”

He said the state knew in 2003 the groundwater at Fayetteville Works was contaminated with the PFOA compound C8. “Nothing was done about that.”

Cahoon said there are also major air discharges of GenX. “They heat this stuff up when they’re making synthetic processes happen and so it comes out of the air and it condenses on things like dew, only you can’t see it,” he said.

Studies under way


The good news, he said, is studies are under way. “The EPA labs in Research Triangle Park and Georgia are working very hard on identifying these compounds,” Cahoon said.

N.C. State professor Detlef Knappe’s lab has spent a lot of time and effort, at his own expense, testing different water treatment systems — reverse osmosis, activated charcoal, iron exchange and so on.

DEQ is sampling a variety of locations up and down the Cape Fear Valley. “They have figured out that there’s an aerial discharge problem, so they’re sampling not just downstream, but downwind of Chemours,” Cahoon said.

A health study is also under way by Jane Hoppin, associate professor of biological sciences and deputy director of N.C. State’s Center for Human Health and the Environment.

“They have recruited somewhere around 330 human guinea pigs from Wilmington to give up blood and urine samples and allow them to test their water supply to try and match up blood levels of GenX with what’s in their current drinking water,” Cahoon said. “It’s the first human exposure study we’ve got.”

Cahoon’s chemistry colleagues at UNCW, in conjunction with Cape Fear Public Utility, are also studying PFCs in drinking water systems.

Cahoon said it’s also important to make sure with state representatives and officials that “this all doesn’t get swept under the rug. We want to make sure that they take this seriously. This is one of many problems like this.”

Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or

From the Brunswick Beacon

"BEAT Lobbies in Washington"


Ten Brunswick Environmental Action Team members traveled to Washington, D.C. on Nov. 15 to lobby on Capitol Hill on behalf of the Marine Mammals Protection Act. From left are Sandy Ford, Kristen Colleran, Bruce Holsten, Mary Baggett, Barbara Kucinski-Gilbert, Dwight Willis, Neil Gilbert, Becky Willis, Pete Key and Beth Key.


The BEAT contingent met with Congressmen David Rouzer and G.K. Butterfield and with the legislative assistants of Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, all of North Carolina. Shortly after meeting with the staffers, the senators announced their opposition to President Trump’s nominee to the Environmental Protection Agency.

In addition to meeting environmentalists from all over the country, the team was treated to a private tour of the Capitol.

From The Brunswick Beacon 
"Brunswick Environmental Action Team Gets Website, Grant Money" 
by Laura Lewis   9/21/2017

The Brunswick Environmental action Team now has a website and grant money. The newly revived nonprofit's new website,, orchestrated by BEAT webmaster, Dr. Greg Weiss, provides information about the group and environmental issues.

"I may be biased, but this without a doubt one of the best environmental websites I have ever seen," BEAT president Neil Gilbert said. "Having been a high school marine biology and environmental science teacher for 30 years, I can safely say I have seen a lot of environmental websites in my time, but few compare to the BEAT website. This is a site that needs to be available to all science classes, chambers of commerce and libraries across Brunswick County."

$2,500 grant

Gilbert also announced last week that after barely six months of revived activity, BEAT has received a $2,500 grant from the Saint Elizabeth Mission Society for education, outreach, and advocacy for the environment.

"We owe much gratitude to Dr. Nina Marable and Teddy Altreuter, the writers of this grant request," Gilbert said. "The BEAT board has invited Nina and Teddy to our Oct. 4 board meeting so we can thank them in person and so they can give us details on how we use this grant money."


Gilbert added, "We are ecstatic that BEAT is becoming so well known and thought of in all our communities throughout Brunswick County. Thanks to a very hard-working and caring group of people."


In addition to Gilbert and Weiss, BEAT's newly elected board of directors consist of Dr. Kristen Colleran of Ocean Isle Beach, Sandy Ford of Leland, Jan Harris and Ted Janes of Sunset Beach, Anne Neely of Shallotte and Shallotte Point, Dale Todd of Belville and Brunswick Forest and Dr. Dwight Willis of Holden Beach.

From South Brunswick Magazine
"Brunswick Environmental Action Team Serves Our Coast"
by Sheree Nielsen   8/25/17

Neil Gilbert certainly has had a lifetime of memories. For fifteen years, he led marine biology students on five-day field experiences to the Marine Resources Development Foundation in Key Largo, Florida, studying the swaying seagrass beds, tropical mangroves, and colorful coral reefs. During that time, his wife, Barb, was off exploring Paris with her students – studying France’s language, history, and culture.

So it’s not a coincidence that Neil and Barb love the environment. In fact, it’s in their human nature. Since retiring and moving to Sunset Beach in 2010, Mother Earth continues to be forefront in their lives.

Appointed to the Sunset Beach Environmental Resource Committee Gilbert met Jan Harris and Dr. Richard Hilderman, who had co-founded the Brunswick Environmental Action Team, formerly known as Brunswick Friends of the Environment. (Harris formed the original Brunswick Environmental Action Team in 1996.)

The educators wanted a name that was upbeat and positive for their revitalized work, with an emphasis on action. Thus the name BEAT was resurrected in the spring of 2017.

Harris, a longtime Sunset Beach resident and environmental activist; Hilderman, a retired microbiologist from Clemson University; and Gilbert, a marine biology teacher from Nottingham High School in Hamilton New Jersey, serve as the Board of Directors for BEAT. Other volunteers come from all walks of life: lawyers, technology, industry, retired military and language teachers.

The team’s humble beginnings stemmed from their studies on Sunset Beach’s environmental issues. The three, instructed by the town council, researched and analyzed the Jinks Creek dredging and its community impact. The committee spent countless hours corresponding with Coastal Federation, NOAA, Coastal Carolina University and UNCW. Their findings, presented to the town council, were not always taken seriously. Limited in their actions, they decided it was time to initiate a countywide action group that focused on a plethora of environmental issues, including proactive solutions.

The mission statement of BEAT is to “educate, elevate, and advocate.”

     1 – Educate the people of Brunswick County.
     2 – Elevate the environmental issues to a more prominent importance.
     3 – Advocate to protect the environment.

BEAT board members meet twice a month. All members meet once a month to attend rallies, movies, or to hear speakers based on environmental issues. Neighboring towns of Leland, Wilmington, Myrtle Beach are taking notice of BEAT’s efforts, wishing to get involved. The board is currently planning by-laws.

“It doesn’t matter what background you have, everyone cherishes the environment. We believe all residents and visitors should display responsibility – that’s what makes the county so great”, Gilbert says.


Taking a leisurely walk or drive around Brunswick County, you’ll see unobstructed views of the natural seashore – no high-rise buildings, and structures are set back from the dunes.

BEAT is passionate about a variety of environmental issues. Currently in the forefront:

  • Rallies focused on the negative impact of offshore drilling and seismic blasting. With offshore drilling, there’s always a possibility of a spill. Oceana studies have shown seismic blasting affects dolphin and whale sonar, causing disorientation, and unexplained beachings.

  • Another topic of concern is the Chemours (Dupont) dumping of GenX in the Cape Fear River, and the effect on Brunswick County’s drinking water. The EPA, Center for Disease Control, and the FBI are investigating this situation.

  • The runoff from the hog farms washing into local rivers.

  • The proposed terminal groins (jetties) by the City of Ocean Isle Beach to aid in the erosion at the eastern end of the island.

On July, 20, the Gilberts, along with three other members of BEAT, traveled to Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, at the invitation of Governor Cooper where he announced his opposition to offshore drilling and seismic testing. T

The Gilberts were thrilled at the invitation, as protecting the beaches of Brunswick County is a top priority for the couple. “Our coast is a huge part of our identity – welcoming visitors to enjoy swimming, walking the shoreline, and fishing."

Currently, more than thirty North Carolina coastal communities have banded together and passed resolutions opposing offshore drilling, joining nearly 200 businesses and community groups. Gilbert feels there are proactive ways all of us can help protect the environment. Here are some suggestions:

  • Composting to cut down on landfill waste, benefitting plants as well as soil.

  • Implementing rain collection barrels to water plants.

  • Recycling.

  • Not littering. Pick up cigarette butts, plastic bottles, and other trash found on the beach and streets.

  • Telling the people around you what you know about the environment.

“If we don’t take environmental issues seriously, our quality of life will be affected. We only have one earth – we need to make the most of our planet”, Gilbert says.

For more information on BEAT, when they meet, or how to volunteer, join their Facebook Group at Brunswick Environmental Action Team.

A meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 6, 2017, at the Brunswick Electric Building’s meeting room in Supply.

From WWAY News
"Dozens Rally Against Offshore Drilling,
Call on County Resolution"
July 17, 2017
From The Brunswick Beacon
"Crowd Rallies in Sunset Beach
Against Offshore Drilling"
by Laura Lewis   7/18/2017

An estimated crowd of 200 turned out for a rally Monday to protest offshore drilling and seismic blasting. When event organizer Neil Gilbert, founding member and president of the Brunswick Environmental Action Team, moved to Brunswick County seven years ago with his wife, Barbara, “we were thinking it’s always going to be as lovely as it is now,” he said at the start of the July 17 event in Sunset Beach Town Park. “But in recent months, we’re finding out that things might be changing,” he said.

Since 2010, 20,000 people have moved to Brunswick County, the fastest-growing county in North Carolina and 17th fastest-growing one in the United States, Gilbert said. “We didn’t move here because we wanted oil on our beach,” he said. “We didn’t move here because we wanted oil off our coast. The reason why we moved here, along with those 20,000 other people, was because we fell in love with this special place that we call home now. Now there’s a move to allow seismic blasting off our coast and to allow drilling off our coast.”

Gilbert said the day’s speakers share the same passion as BEAT members. The crowd applauded when Gilbert noted Sunset Beach Town Council recently unanimously voted to oppose offshore drilling. “We don’t agree on everything, but one thing we do agree on is we’re going to protect our beach,” he said. “We’re going to protect our coast.” Petitions were also circulated at the rally. Gilbert said they would eventually be forwarded to U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr of North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper and N.C. Congressman David Rouzer.

One of the event speakers, Sunset Beach Town Councilman Richard Cerrato, said the environment is a local responsibility. “Don’t expect government or any agency to protect your interests,” he said. “You need to protect your own interests.” Cerrato said they live in a county and state that are “so anxious to offshore drill and overdevelop for one reason: Money, revenues. One oil spill, just one off our pristine Brunswick County beaches, will be an economic disaster.”

Butler speaks

The day’s second speaker, District 18 Rep. Deb Butler, D-Wilmington, told the crowd, “I don’t have to tell you that we are living in a politically tempestuous time. You can almost feel the proverbial sands shifting under your feet from day to day.” In North Carolina, “we are doing what New York magazine called ‘scorched-earth politics,’ the worst in the country,” she said. “I don’t know about you, but as a member of your legislature, I’m not proud of that.”

Despite the “rancor and discord” in Washington and Raleigh, “I am nevertheless confident that there is at least one thing that all North Carolinians must agree upon, and that is that the health and vitality of our coastline is not for sale,” Butler said, drawing applause. “When big oil threatens to blast the floor of our ocean and kill our marine life and dot our landscape with behemoth oil rigs, we are going to stand again together and we are going to say no,” she said, drawing more applause. 

“Don’t let anybody tell you that these oil spills don’t occur,” Butler said, citing at least 70 within the last decade around the world and in the U.S. “There are oil spills and oil rigs leaking all over the planet right now. It doesn’t take just a half an hour to stop these things. “When a spill like that happens, it not only condemns the people who live there and the environment, it condemns the economy as well. It is cataclysmic, it is horrific, it is expensive and it is long-term. It happens and it lasts for generations. This cannot be the path that we choose.”

Butler noted Brunswick County is one of only two counties in the state that “believe that offshore drilling is a good idea. It’s not. The better path I would say to you is to embrace emerging technology such as fuel cell technology, lithium air battery technology. These are the industries we should be inviting to our region. Let’s set our sights on game-changing technologies such as those. Let it not be said that we decided to hitch our wagon to a smokestack-style technology from the 19th century.”

Gilbert said Brunswick County is one of only two counties on the North Carolina coast that doesn’t have a resolution that favors banning offshore drilling. “Let’s just say that we’re going to change that,” he said. “I think that’s happening beginning today.”

County commissioners

Dwight Willis, speaking on behalf of Brunswick County commissioner Mike Forte, who couldn’t attend Monday’s rally, said two years ago “a lot of you went with me to the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners and asked them to support a resolution opposing offshore drilling. They didn’t do that. They voted to support offshore drilling, and we thought they had lost their minds.”

Willis said, “We’re going to give (commissioners) opportunity to take a different vote in the very near future.” Forte, who was elected last November, wanted rally-goers to know he opposes offshore drilling and offshore seismic testing and is willing to offer a resolution at a future commissioners meeting, Willis said. Willis said he had also just received a message from Brunswick County commissioner Randy Thompson that he, too, is “committed to stand firm on no drilling along our coastal areas.” “So we now have two votes,” Willis said. “We need one more.”

He cited a statement published in an area newspaper the day before by Brunswick County commissioner Pat Sykes that offshore drilling “might not even happen here. I just don’t see causing a stir when there’s nothing there,” and Sykes said it’s not an issue for the county right now. “We want you to stir the pot today by sending Commissioner Sykes an email,” Willis said. “Tell her you think offshore drilling and seismic blasting are issues for Brunswick County, and we would like to help her get involved in this issue. We need her vote. She will be our third vote, and hopefully maybe as early as August we’ll be able to go back to the board and get a different kind of resolution and will no longer embarrass ourselves by being one of those two counties.”

Congressional candidate speaks

Gilbert said South Carolina’s U.S. representatives oppose offshore drilling as do “all the other North Carolina legislators who serve in the U.S. Congress. There’s only one who’s for it, and it just happens to be the one who represents our district. David Rouzer, I don’t know why, but he is for offshore drilling. He could’ve come here and spoke today, but I guess he doesn’t want to be seen with a bunch of people who love the ocean.”

He then introduced the day’s next speaker, Dr. Kyle Horton, a Wilmington physician who announced in May she plans to run as a Democratic candidate for Rouzer’s 7th District seat. “Offshore drilling and climate change is fundamentally about our health and our safety and national security,” Horton said. “It’s also a fundamental fight about our jobs, our economy and our quality of life here on the coast.” She said she lost an extended family member, who was one of 11 crew members killed when the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010.

“He never got to meet his grandchildren because we needed to fuel our dirty addiction to fossil fuels,” Horton said, drawing applause as she added, “That needs to stop, because he won’t be the only one lost. Where we’ve drilled we’ve spilled, and where we’ve spilled, we’ve killed — not just marine life, but workers. It’s a simple fact that over 10 years during the oil and gas boom that oil and gas workers were seven times more likely to die on the job than other U.S. workers.”

Joan Furlong of Stop Ocean Drilling in the Atlantic based in neighboring South Carolina, spoke about how her nonpartisan volunteer group has partnered with a variety of people to garner support and action by local government, including Horry and Georgetown counties, to oppose offshore drilling and seismic blasting.

“That’s (where) we devote our time and energy and money out of our pockets,” she said.

From The Brunswick Beacon
"Members of Brunswick Environmental Action Team Stand Ready to Perform Important Work Throughout Our County."
by Richard Hilderman, Guest Columnist   5/23/2017

Humans are the trustees of the earth and the ocean. We depend on a natural environmental system as a food source and for protection from severe weather events. The same is true for the animals and plants with which we share our environment. North Carolina has more than 2 million acres of estuaries along the coast, which include salt marshes, sounds and beaches. These estuaries are vital for Brunswick County’s tourism and fisheries industries in addition to providing weather protection.

The Brunswick Environmental Action Team (BEAT) was recently created by disenfranchised and concerned former members of the Sunset Beach Environmental Resource Committee. We are concerned that offshore drilling, fracking, habitat fragmentation, water pollution, unnecessary dredging in tidal creeks and marshes, along with building in areas that are at a high risk for damage from tidal surges and flooding will change Brunswick County forever. If we don’t start addressing these and other environmental issues, the natural beauty we enjoy will be lost for future generations. What is the legacy we want to leave?

Scientific data clearly demonstrate our planet is getting hotter. Each year sets a new record. These higher temperatures we are witnessing as a part of climate change are accompanied by a dramatic increase in the frequency and severity of storms. Just watch the nightly news to understand that extreme weather events are occurring throughout the United States and the world. Locally, we don’t have to look further than the wake-up call we received from Hurricane Matthew.

Folks, we have a problem! Storm surges are triggering erosion of Brunswick County beaches and sand dunes, making us more vulnerable to flooding. Sand dunes and wetlands are Mother Nature’s primary defense against these storm surges.

We also need to understand that fresh water is life. Water is important for both domestic as well as industrial purposes. We are contaminating our fresh and salt waters with waste, ranging from plastic to hog farm runoff. Water pollution affects the basic building blocks of aquatic life, both animals and plants. Tidal creeks such as Jinks Creek in Brunswick County are closed to shellfish harvesting because filter feeders like shellfish contain high concentrations of pollutants, making them dangerous for humans to consume.

Brunswick County is the fastest-growing county in North Carolina. The challenge is to balance this growth while maintaining a healthy natural environment. To accomplish this balance will require strong political leadership and strong citizen involvement. It is up to each of us to convince our elected officials to take action.

The Brunswick Environmental Action Team will address this challenge through education, raising public awareness and by being a strong advocate with both politicians and various state and federal environmental agencies. If invited, BEAT would expect to work with and be a resource body for local towns and councils that are mindful of their obligations to conserve and protect the environment. BEAT believes stewardship of our environment is everyone’s responsibility. BEAT members live in all corners of Brunswick County. Our membership comes from all walks of life including scientists, teachers, lawyers, government officials, watermen, beach walkers and homeowners.

From The Brunswick Beacon
"Group Launches BEAT for Environmental Issues"
by Laura Lewis   5/2/2017

A newly forming countywide environmental group has chosen the name of an already existing nonprofit. At their first meeting last Wednesday, April 26, members chose the moniker Brunswick Environmental Action Team (BEAT), chosen because it’s the name of an existing but inactive organization that already has nonprofit status. “We even have $50 in the bank,” said BEAT founder Jan Harris.

A capacity crowd of about 30 people from around the county showed up for the two-hour session in a meeting room at Hickmans Crossroads Library. Participants, who came from as far as Leland, Southport and Oak Island, introduced themselves and spoke about individual environmental concerns.

As a most immediate, next order of business, some BEAT members were planning to take part in a news conference against ocean drilling that was planned for 10 a.m. Friday, May 5, in Sunset Beach Town Park. But as of early Friday morning, organizers cancelled the event because of stormy weather. BEAT member Neil Gilbert said the event will be rescheduled in the near future.

Participants gave varied reasons for their interest in the group, including “there’s more to life than golf.” “It’s remarkable to me so many people have come,” said group chairman Richard Hilderman, who previously led the town-appointed Sunset Beach Environmental Resource Committee (ERC). He, along with ERC’s four other members, resigned April 19 after Sunset Beach Town Council took action preventing them from talking about dredging issues on the Sunset Beach island.

It’s going to be a challenge and a lot of work,” said Hilderman, a retired chairman of Clemson University’s genetics and biochemistry department and former director of Clemson’s Genomics Institute. “We’re going to need as much help as we can possibly get.” In the course of his career, Hilderman said, he got interested in global warming and climate change. Fellow former ERC member Gary Merritt of Sunset Beach cited an alarming pattern of things having a “much longer life than the event. “I’m a coastal guy who understands we live in a very unique area,” he said. 

Nina Marable, another Sunset Beach resident, said she’s trying to do what she can to preserve the environment. Debbie Hayes of Oak Island said she had seen “devastating changes,” including ones on the shoreline. “I just see the abuses,” she said, including the potential for fracking, which Hayes plans to “fight as much as I can.”

Several participants had backgrounds in art and teaching science. One man recalled the alligators and swamps before Oyster Bay became a golf course community in Sunset Beach. A Shallotte woman originally from Asheville said “a lot of folks are not listening to what’s going on around here. I’m also a Buddhist, and I am my environment.” Lora Sharkey, director of Coastal Water Watch, a Southport-based group focused on protecting and improving water quality in Brunswick County, said, "If you get people engaged and concerned now, you can prevent it from becoming another Myrtle Beach (S.C.) or Arlington, Va.”

Gene Viviano, an engineer who said he lived in the “paradise” of Ocean Isle Beach, wanted to see if there’s some way “I can contribute myself to help the environment.” Bill Altreuter was concerned with “draconian and environmental” efforts going on in Washington, D.C. “You can’t fool Mother Nature,” he said. “They should back off.”

Another participant, local builder Bobby Rains, said he has seen big changes locally. “Most of ‘em I don’t like,” he said. “When you're harming the rest of us, I’m against it.” Hilderman said educating the public is critical. “The environment impacts us all,” he said. 


At last count, event organizer and former Sunset Beach ERC member Neil Gilbert said more than 80 people have expressed interest in joining the efforts of the fledgling group. The next steps for BEAT will be to appoint a board of directors and develop bylaws. Hilderman said there also needs to be subcommittees to address individual issues, otherwise members “would go in circles.” Members talked about getting word out about the group. Harris said BEAT also has to have a means of raising money.


It was indicated the group will meet monthly. Hilderman suggested doing so in different parts of the county. The next meeting is planned for Wednesday, May 24, with the location to be announced. Another meeting attendee invited the group to take part in Hands Across the Sand at midday Saturday, May 20. So far, the event is planned in Sunset Beach and Oak Island.

From Coastal Review Online
"Fed Up Brunswick Environmentalists Regroup"
by Trista Talon   4/25/2017

SUNSET BEACH – With more than 60 members and growing, the first order of business for a newly formed environmental advocacy group in Brunswick County is to pick a name. A handful of titles are being tossed around: Brunswick Friends of the Environment, Brunswick Environmental Action Team and Brunswick Ocean Warriors.


Organizers of the group, fed up with what they describe as being censored by their local government council, will let the majority decide on a name during its first meeting Wednesday. They’ll also discuss the types of environmental issues they want to tackle. Stormwater runoff, water quality, dredging, offshore drilling, terminal groins – the list, like the group itself, is likely to grow.

Neil Gilbert

“There’s definitely a big interest in the environment here,” said Neil Gilbert. “People are energized right now. There’s so many issues that affect Brunswick County.” Gilbert has been spreading the word about the environmental advocacy group through social media channels, garnering members from Leland to Calabash and towns in between.


By April 9, 31 people had RSVP’d to attend Wednesday’s meeting, a turnout that will fill to capacity the venue the group has booked at the Hickman Crossing Library in Calabash.

“It just seemed like it snowballed,” Gilbert said. “One of the big issues we’re going to talk about is our next holding place. We definitely want to make the next meeting at a venue where we can hold more people.”


Organizers want to bring in residents from throughout the county, bridging rural and coastal environmental issues. Richard Hilderman, the organization’s chairman, said one of his goals is to establish a board of directors composed of residents representing different parts of the county.

 “I don’t know necessarily what the issues are in Leland and Bolivia,” he said. “That’s why I want people on the board from different areas.” Hilderman, a Sunset Beach resident who retired from the Clemson University faculty in 2009, shared his vision for the group.

“I don’t think we have any organization or group that’s clearly an advocate for the environment in Brunswick County,” he said. “We want to be an advocate. I think this organization has a very unique opportunity to become a very strong advocate for protecting the environment.” A group that is nonpartisan, separate and apart from government – that was the driving factor behind creating this environmental advocacy association.


Until a few days ago, Hilderman and Gilbert were members of the Sunset Beach Environmental Resource Committee, or ERC. They, along with the other three members of the committee, resigned last Wednesday, exactly one year after the committee was formed, in a consensus of frustration that their role was being pared down to talking only about recycling.

Richard Hilderman

Jan Harris

Sunset Beach resident and long-time environmental activist Jan Harris was a member of the committee. The group of volunteers had, for months, been delving into the potential environmental effects of the town’s proposed plans to dredge the waterways around the island. They are particularly concerned about the proposed dredging of a portion of Jinks Creek, an area that’s never been dredged.

“We spent hundreds of hours researching environmental science at the council’s request,” she said. “We did all of this while three members of the council and the mayor crept around in the bushes looking for members of the ERC to make a mistake. We, the ERC, made this about the science. Three council members with the mayor made this personal.”


In a letter Harris read aloud following the unanimous resignation of the committee, she stated that the town council has “steadfastly refused to accept the conclusions supported by the provided research.”

Prior to the committee members’ resignations, the town council in a 3-2 vote on April 18 adopted rules directing the committee to “seek direction” and communicate solely with the council, according to an April 21 story in The Brunswick Beacon. Council members said the committee went beyond its authority and reached out to state and federal agencies, according to the newspaper.

“Now we are free,” Harris said. “I don’t believe this group would have happened had we not been treated the way we were treated. My heart is just singing. I just think it is so wonderful because it does feel like BEAT (Brunswick Environmental Action Team) is coming back. I didn’t think that would happen, but it is.”

Jinks Creek

Harris formed BEAT in 1996. The group ran strong for more than a decade, eventually going defunct as key members died and Harris turned her full attention to caring for her ailing mother. “I want to see us getting back to holding education seminars. I want to see us get involved in shoreline management. There’s so many things that we can educate the people as to how they can help keep this area so beautiful. I think it’s just the greatest thing that’s happened to Brunswick County in a long time,” Harris said.

Gilbert shares her enthusiasm, rattling off topics that will be discussed during the organization’s first meeting, including establishing the group’s vision and mission statement. “We could be coming to the point where it gets so big that we have subcommittees on ocean drilling or seismic testing or stormwater runoff,” he said. “We don’t know. It’s got great potential to do great things.”

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