“I hope that you all will not get sucked into the developing mentality of playing politics with this. I see why both sides would be tempted to do that,” White said.
“This process has exposed systemic and unimaginable regulatory failure at the federal and state level and we have an incredible opportunity as a community and a state … to set aside whatever arguments we might have or other issues and agree what everyone else agrees to; we want safe drinking water, we don’t want people to pollute it and if you pollute it you are going to get punished," White said. "And we’ve got an enforcement mechanism that ensures the people that the water is safe. It’s that simple."
White asked the commission to take action now, on whatever option the commission sees necessary, to ensure safe drinking water.
Saffo reiterated White's comments about safe drinking water, adding “What I have personally found in this whole process is ... federal agencies overseeing this, state agencies overseeing this -- sometimes they are not talking to each other,” Saffo said. “We have an opportunity here to get it right and make this a bipartisan issue because this is a public health issue.”
“I ask you: come together, work out a policy that really reviews these things top down,” Saffo said.
Addressing DEQ Secretary Michael Regan and DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen, who received many questions from the commission toward the end of the hearing, Saffo said, “Let’s find out where the problem is and let's fix it as quickly as possible. And anything you can do to bring relief to these folks down here in Southeastern North Carolina, we would welcome it.”
Following comments and questions to local and state officials, a scientific discussion about GenX was led Larry Cahoon, Biological Oceanographer & Professor at UNCW.
A representative of Chemours, Michael Johnson, an environmental manager for the company, had been set to receive questions at the hearing. But Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, said during the hearing Wednesday that although the Chemours representative had been invited, the panel was contacted by a lawyer with the company Tuesday who stated that neither Johnson nor any representative of the company would attend.
In late June, Chemours announced it would “capture, remove, and safely dispose of wastewater that contains the byproduct GenX generated from fluoromonomers production at its manufacturing plant in Fayetteville.”
It also disclosed it had been discharging GenX as a byproduct since the 1980s
While the DEQ is continuing to investigate and monitor the river water for GenX, officials with the state agency say levels of the emerging contaminant are trending down.
Officials from DEQ and DHHS have said the additional funding they are requesting would support additional scientists, engineers and health professionals to ensure long-term water testing and protection statewide.
Officials with DEQ have also said the money would help address a two-year backlog of wastewater discharge permits and to address the issue of emerging contaminants. In DHHS, funds would be used to create a water health and safety unit to help the agency understand unregulated compounds, as well as additional staff members, including a "second toxicologist" for the state, Cohen said during the hearing.
The next issue of the Greater Wilmington Business Journal, which will be published Friday, takes a look at the two-year backlog of permits and challenges facing state officials in dealing with emerging contaminants.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct name of the Environmental Review Commission.
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