Economists with the University of North Carolina Wilmington are moving forward with efforts to study the effects of GenX on the regional population through a survey set to be mailed out sometime this month.
But this study isn’t testing water. It’s measuring a regional reaction and the economic influences of GenX. The study is one of many the university is conducting to study GenX, an unregulated chemical that has been found in the Cape Fear River and treated drinking water in the region.
“[GenX] seems to be an important issue in our region. So as an economist I thought, ‘What can I contribute to this to help folks understand what’s going on as far as people changing behaviors and economic impacts?’” said Chris Dumas, professor of economics in the department of environmental sciences at UNCW.
The issue has caused widespread attention and reaction from the public, as well as local and state leaders over the past four months since news broke that the chemical was being released into the river by the Chemours Co. in Fayetteville. Since then, sampling by UNCW and regional water utilities has been ongoing.
“There are several studies going on ... from various perspectives,” Dumas said. “My perspective is from an economics perspective. And so as an economist, I’m interested in how people are reacting, how they are changing their decisions regarding the products that they buy and use, and also the economic impacts, if any, of the GenX awareness on individual households.
“There are economic costs to having contaminated water,” he added.
The four-page survey will be mailed to 4,000 registered voters in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties. The survey will include an option to be completed online with a special code for each household or to be mailed back to the university.
Various questions will be asked of participants in the form of multiple choice, short answer, fill-in-the-blank and other methods, Dumas said.
“It’s going to be looking at GenX awareness, exposure and economic impact,” Dumas said of the study. “We ask them these questions, of their behavior both before and after [they were aware of] GenX.”
Dumas said the study would measure people’s reactions, what changes are being made to the products they are buying and using to reduce exposure and the costs associated with it.
Topics also hit on a variety of issues households might be facing, ranging from questions about participation in recreational activities on the Cape Fear River to questions that look at the value households place on removing the unregulated chemical from the water.
The study is being led by Dumas with assistance from Ryan Mantica, a senior undergraduate economics major at UNCW, and Huili Hao, UNCW assistant professor in the department of environmental sciences.
Dumas said the survey would benefit not only the university for further studies, but also the public, business community and policymakers in the region.
“We want to do the research, so we can understand how this happened, how it plays out and what we can do to prevent it in the future, so we can avoid any potential negatives for regional businesses,” Dumas said.
“Until we do a random sample of everyone, we really don’t know what the public actually thinks. So it will be useful for the public to know, and also be useful for policymakers to know, as they try to determine what’s the best way to respond to the GenX issue,” he added.
Cost estimates for the study are nearly $10,000 and will be funded through university resources. The project is separate from research funded by House Bill 56, a large environmental bill that included funding for UNCW and the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority for GenX research.
Results from the survey will be analyzed with a full report completed by Dumas and his team sometime in spring 2018. The results will be made available to the public.