Election Opinion (N.C. Senate): Lee On Addressing GenX

By Michael Lee, posted Oct 25, 2018
Michael Lee
Editor’s note: As Election Day nears, the Greater Wilmington Business Journal is inviting candidates in many of the local races to share their opinions on specific issues.
Today’s focus is the race for the state Senate’s District 9 seat, which covers New Hanover County.
Both candidates – Republican Sen. Michael Lee and his Democratic challenger, former Wilmington Mayor Harper Peterson – answered the following question. To read Peterson’s column, click here.
If elected, how would you address water quality, including about GenX, from the legislature?
I authored the Water Safety Act and passed other legislation over the last year in response to GenX and below is a brief summary of those actions:
  1. Specific authority given to Governor to shut down polluters.
  2. Significant funding to DEQ to hire new personnel and acquire new equipment to address GenX and other emerging compounds.
  3. Created a water quality monitoring and early warning system for GenX and other PFAS compounds that monitors over 192 surface water intakes across our state and all public groundwater supplies in our state.
  4. Require polluters to pay for permanent alternative water supplies (such as municipal water or whole house filtration) for private wells that are contaminated.
  5. Funding to local governments to plan for connection of new users which will be reimbursed by the polluter.
  6. Funding to the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority and other local public utilities to develop treatment technologies to remove GenX from public water supplies, and to make sure that treatment is working through ongoing monitoring.
  7. Require all industry to provide to DEQ, in a database and searchable format, a list of all compounds they intend to discharge so they can be disclosed to the public.
  8. Funding to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington to quantify the amount of GenX in the Cape Fear River and determine the impact it could have on public health and safety.
  9. Begin development of an electronic filing system to speed up the water quality permitting process along with an online, searchable database where local officials and the public can easily find information on permits that have already been granted.
A nationally recognized water quality expert at Duke University responded to the Water Safety Act (that I authored) in a StarNews OpEd as follows:
Dear Editor,
… I personally had conversations with many of these legislators to explain how such monitoring could be accomplished and how it might serve to protect public health.  In particular, Senator Michael Lee visited my laboratory and those of several other academic water quality experts in NC. 
He spent several hours with me discussing the fine details involved in establishing a statewide emerging contaminant monitoring and alert program.  I was impressed with his eagerness to understand the science and his obvious commitment to do what is necessary to solve the problem of unanticipated emerging contaminant pollution in the drinking water of NC residents.  It is clear that Senator Lee and other lawmakers took those conversations and lab visits to heart. …
The eventual legislation on water quality protection that was included within the state budget this summer was modified from the original bills after discussion to focus on polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) such as GenX and related compounds.
However, even as modified, the monitoring network thus established is without question the most sophisticated and comprehensive emerging pollutant monitoring program for water that has ever been established in the United States.  … [Emphasis added] It will pave the way for application of technologies to remove these contaminants from water. Finally it will serve as a model for how states (and nations) should respond to potential chemical hazards in their drinking water sources.  [Emphasis added]
… In this case, I believe that the lawmakers got it right.  I thank Senator Lee and his colleagues in the NC General Assembly for their action. …
Best regards,
P. Lee Ferguson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering
Pratt School of Engineering &
Nicholas School of the Environment
Duke University

As your State Senator, I know there is more work to do in addition to the Water Safety Act. 
Unfortunately, the government agency tasked to protect our clean water missed this one for over 37 years.  The water quality scientists tell me we will need to go beyond the “wet lab” and into that of data analytics in order to protect our drinking water. 
GenX is just one of over 5,000 compounds in the PFAS family. 
In order to identify emerging compounds, they currently have to be reviewed by a scientist. It is like having a fingerprint and flipping through a fingerprint book.
We need to leverage the resources of our state and create a model that will identify these compounds much like we now identify fingerprints in a database. While that is oversimplifying the matter, just know there is more work to be done on this front.
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