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2017 Top Stories: No. 1 - GenX Prompts Widespread Concern

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Dec 15, 2017
Since June, the Cape Fear River has been monitored for the unregulated chemical GenX, the source of which has been linked to the Chemours Co. operations in Fayetteville. (File photo)
GenX quickly emerged as a water quality issue this year and has continued to be a topic of community discussion since it was first reported six months ago that the unregulated chemical was detected in the drinking water of Cape Fear region.
Widespread news reports across the state, and some nationwide, have been ongoing since state officials traced the source of GenX to the Chemours Co., which conducts its plant operations at the 2,150-acre Fayetteville Works facility 100 miles upstream from the Wilmington area.
Chemours officials disclosed in mid-June that the chemical had been discharged into the river for more than 30 years and is byproduct of its fluoromonomers production at the plant.
Chemours, a global manufacturer of products that include brands such as Teflon and Nafion, announced June 20 that it would “capture, remove, and safely dispose of wastewater that contains the byproduct GenX generated from fluoromonomers production.”
The issue has since sparked lawsuits against Chemours and other legal actions, including those filed by local and state governments and the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA).
State legislators have since funded CFPUA and the University of North Carolina Wilmington for research on GenX. The funding was part of a larger environmental bill, House Bill 56, that received pushback from Gov. Roy Cooper through a veto.
When the governor visited Wilmington in July, he proposed his own measure; a proposal to the state legislature to provide more than $2.5 million in emergency funding to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and N.C. Department of environmental Quality (DEQ) to address GenX and DEQ’s two-year backlog of wastewater discharge permits.
DEQ has been conducting regular water testing in its investigation into Chemours’ operations, including its wastewater discharge site, to monitor concentrations of GenX.
Early tests along the river showed GenX levels were trending down. But this fall concentrations spiked at Chemours’ primary outfall because of an Oct. 6 spill, which came to light a month after it occurred, DEQ officials said in November.
DEQ soon followed up with a move to revoke a part of Chemours’ wastewater permit that governs the ability of Chemours to discharge fluorinated compounds into the Cape Fear River. The suspension took effect Nov. 30.
Chemours officials said the move by DEQ was “unwarranted.” In the statement, company officials said they have worked in “good faith” with all of DEQ’s requests.
Today, the Fayetteville Works site employs about 900 people, according to the company’s website.  

For a list of the Top 10 local business stories of the year, click here.
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