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GenX Emerges Quickly As Water Issue

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Jun 30, 2017
Questions from local leaders and the community remain after Chemours announced in mid-June that it would stop any discharge of GenX into the Cape Fear River.

The chemical is an emerging contaminate detected in the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority’s water supply in a study by N.C. State University researchers in 2013-14 and linked to The Chemours Company’s operations at the 2,150-acre Fayetteville Works site along the river more than 70 miles north of Wilmington.

According to officials, the source of GenX is connected to an unregulated byproduct of a Chemours polyvinyl ether plant, separate from another Chemours facility at its Fayetteville site regulated by the EPA.

Days after Chemours met in a closed-door meeting with state and local officials in Wilmington, prompted by criticism from the community and local officials after StarNews reports about the issue, Chemours announced in a release that it would take steps to keep the byproduct from the river starting June 21.

Company officials, while asserting that the trace amounts of GenX found in the river had been “well below the health screening level announced by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Service,” said in a statement that the company would “capture, remove, and safely dispose of wastewater” containing GenX.

Wilmington City Council passed a resolution urging the company and state agencies take steps to ensure no discharge into the river and requested Chemours to hold a public meeting in the city by the end of July to address public concerns and questions about GenX. The resolution was passed soon after Chemours made its announcement on June 20.

The resolution also asked for Chemours to release all data it has from research involving GenX. As of press time, Chemours had not answered to the city’s request.

A similar resolution was approved by New Hanover County commissioners asking Chemours to halt its discharge of GenX.

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority also requested NCDEQ prohibit Chemours from discharging GenX pollutants into the Cape Fear River and include it as a condition in Chemours’ permit.

Chemours is currently seeking a renewal of its permit with NCDEQ, according to state officials. Chemours, like all manufacturing companies that require discharging pollutants as part of their operations, is regulated by the NCDEQ through permits and have expiration dates that are set by the Clean Water Act.

NCDEQ representatives said at a press conference with local officials that the agency is evaluating Chemours’ old permit, which expired in October, for the issuance of a new permit. The former permit, however, is legally legitimate until the NCDEQ provides a new one.

Meanwhile, the NCDEQ and the EPA are investigating the discharge of GenX into the Cape Fear River.

The NCDEQ is conducting water sampling for GenX at 13 spots along the Cape Fear River. According to the NCDEQ, the first test results will likely available four weeks from when the samples are received. Chemours has agreed to bear the costs for collection and testing.

Natalie English, president and CEO of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, said it was unknown at this time the impact of the recent news to industry in the area.

But speaking as an advocate for the local business community, English said manufacturing companies in the area under similar permits to Chemours are required to maintain and abide by regulations and permitting set by the NCDEQ.

Steve Yost, president of North Carolina’s Southeast Regional Economic Development Partnership, said the organization is tracking information about the GenX issue but hasn’t seen any impacts to its business recruitment or marketing.

The organization has had no inquiries or input about the situation from any companies that the organization works with, he said.

“I can only go by what we are engaged with in marketing this region to prospective businesses and industry. And so, we have no had mention of this issue with anyone we are working with right now,” Yost said on June 22.

“We would certainly believe and assume all the regulatory steps have to be taken by the company [Chemours] and by the agencies that are responsible for overseeing that … obviously we support that, and we would certainly assume that it all would move forward as it should,” he said. “As a regional economic development organization, we would definitely support this being taken care of.”

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