Cooper seeks SBI probe of chemical in Cape Fear River
Posted July 24
RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday directed the State Bureau of Investigation to see if a chemical plant violated any permits by discharging a lightly studied chemical into the Cape Fear River, which hundreds of thousands of people use for drinking water.
Cooper, who met Monday with local officials in Wilmington and state environmental and public health officials, also said the state Department of Environmental Quality would deny a permit for chemical company Chemours to continue releasing a compound known as GenX into the river from its Bladen County plant, which employs nearly 1,000 workers.
"Sometimes, it's easy to take water for granted. I assure you, I do not," the governor said at a news conference. "The first priority of my administration is to do everything in our power to make sure that drinking water is protected."
GenX is used to make nonstick products like Teflon, replacing a different chemical tied to increased cancer risk, but the health effects of ingesting GenX aren't well known.
Chemours, which hasn't responded to messages seeking comment, stopped putting GenX into the Cape Fear River last month at Cooper's request. The company now captures and burns the chemical.
Cooper also has asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to study GenX and long-term exposure to it.
Still, he and Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen insisted the drinking water is safe in the Wilmington area, noting the levels of GenX in the water has dropped since Chemours stopped discharging it upriver.
"We are not seeing it accumulate, but again, we need a lot more information and data," Cohen said. "We feel comfortable, again, continuing to recommend that people can continue to drink the water, continue to eat the fish."
Some local residents found such assurances hard to swallow, however.
"We will be putting together a water drive for our community to get water here, and we are desperately asking anybody and everybody to send water to Wilmington because, no matter of what level of GenX is ... in our water, we will not drink that," Wilmington resident Beth Markesino said.
Cooper also laid out other steps the state is taking:
- A new state Science Advisory Board will be expanded to tackle unregulated chemical compounds.
- Companies will be required to disclose more information about pollutants they release.
- Cooper's administration will push new legislation for more staff and resources at DEQ and DHHS to handle water safety.