State News

Wilmington officials demand answers from state, feds on chemical in water

Posted July 17, 2017 2:56 p.m. EDT
Updated July 17, 2017 6:50 p.m. EDT

— Local leaders in the Wilmington area said Monday they want more communication and more leadership from the state on a chemical found last month in Cape Fear River, which supplies drinking water to the region.

Meanwhile, Gov. Roy Cooper asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set standards for the chemical, known as GenX, which he asked a manufacturer to stop dumping into the river. In a letter sent Monday, Cooper told the EPA he needs rules on the discharge of GenX so he can make his request to Chemours mandatory.

The chemical is a byproduct of manufacturing and had made its way into the Cape Fear River from Chemours' plant in Fayetteville.

Scientists say there have been no definitive studies about how the chemical affects humans, but Wilmington-area officials said that hasn't calmed anyone's fears.

"We're asking the EPA and the (state Department of Environmental Quality) and the Governor's Office to come down here and talk to the citizens and tell us once and for all, can we drink the water or not?" Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said at a news conference. "I know we have no advisories, there's nothing about boiling any water at this point in time, but there are concerns, especially for woman that are pregnant and for infants."

Late Friday, the state announced it was dramatically lowering the amount of GenX it considers safe to drink, from 70,000 parts per trillion to 140 parts per trillion. Levels of the compound have exceeded that new limit in the past few weeks.

Woody White, chairman of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners, said he's glad to see that the GenX levels in the river are going down now that Chemours has stopped discharging it. But he noted that Chemours has admitted it has been releasing GenX into the river since 1980.

White called on the state to start immediately on long-term health studies of the chemical and the people in the region, and he wants to know whether state and federal regulators are investigating the situation.

"If that last 40 days have taught us nothing, they certainly have taught us that somebody has been asleep at the switch," he said. "We're no longer asleep. This community is galvanized and unified."

White and Saffo have asked Chemours representatives to attend community meetings to answer residents' questions, but so far, the company hasn't responded.

The Cape Fear River provides drinking water for Bladen, Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties.