Local, state and federal officials gathered in Wilmington on Thursday afternoon for an update on GenX, an emerging chemical contaminate detected in the Cape Fear Public Utility’s water supply tied to Fayetteville-based company Chemours.
Chemours agreed to meet with local officials earlier this week, days after news reports from the StarNews indicated GenX was found in the Cape Fear River during a N.C. State University study between 2013-14.
The source of GenX has been linked to operations at the Chemours Company’s 2,150-acre Fayetteville Works site along the Cape Fear River located 71 miles north of Wilmington. Chemours' Fayetteville Works plant employs about 300 people in that region.
When state and local officials met Thursday, the meeting was not open to the public. One pool reporter from the StarNews was allowed in to represent media.
New Hanover County Commissioner Chairman Woody White was the first official to speak at a press conference following the 96-minute meeting.
Chemours Company began formal operations in 2015, as a spin off of DuPont, he said. The GenX chemical is an unregulated byproduct of the company’s industrial processes at the site, officials said. The company put abatement technology to capture emissions in 2013. Company officials said in the meeting that it has since reduced its discharge of GenX.
“Chemours is currently seeking a renewal of its permit to allow up to 26 million gallons of water per day withdrawn from the Cape Fear River to conduct manufacturing processes," White said, "Presumably treating it by a state permit and then discharging it back into the Cape Fear River where the discharged water flows downstream to our community."
Chemours intends to continue to discharge GenX and is permitted to do so, White said. There has been additional testing done since 2013, and the analysis of those results will be released to state regulators.
Local officials during Thursday’s press conference called for Chemours to eliminate its discharge into the Cape Fear River.
“They have not committed to do so as of yet,” White said.
In a statement released by Cape Fear Public Utility Authority following news reports, the utility said it was aware of the N.C. State's study and has since notified N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) and the EPA of the findings.
CFPUA has also stated its water quality tests meet all state and federal guidelines. GenX, however, is not currently regulated by the EPA.
In a letter to CFPUA Executive Director James Flechtner on June 9, the NCDEQ said it started working with Chemours to “assess waste teams containing GenX and determine if the company can reduce the amount of the chemical compound being discharged into the river.”
The NCDEQ has announced it is leading a state investigation into the presence of GenX in the Cape Fear River and called on Chemours to find ways to reduce or eliminate discharge into the river until the state investigation is complete, according to the agency’s news release this week.
Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo also called on state environmental authorities to request that Chemours suspend its discharge of GenX.
“We are asking for a 100 percent elimination of Gen X from the Cape Fear River," he said. "The company has indicated they are trying to do everything in their power to do that. In the meantime, I would ask the state DEQ and the EPA to suspend that operation until we have some evidence.”
Environmental regulators are planning to collect water samples from the Cape Fear River and send them to a laboratory in Colorado that detects GenX in low concentrations, according to the NCDEQ. Collection could begin next week, with first test results likely available four weeks from when the samples are received. In addition, Chemours agreed to bear all the costs for collection and testing.
“Because this is an unregulated compound that is in our river, we need to learn more about it. There is one specific study that we have. There seems to be others that are out there, we don’t know," Saffo said. "But I can assure you that all the elected officials here and all the people in this room want to make certain we have good, safe, clean drinking water and that’s, I think, [what] I most want the EPA and our Division of Environmental Quality to tell us after this sampling, that this water is safe to drink."
Officials say the EPA is also working to establish guidelines for the chemical that states can use for potential regulations.
Information from a pool reporter attending the closed-door meeting was included in this report.