@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

Cooper seeking $14.5M in state budget to address GenX

Posted April 10, 2018 12:19 p.m. EDT

Treated wastewater flows from an outfall pipe from the Chemours plant into the Cape Fear River.

— Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday that he plans to include $14.5 million in his recommended budget to address health and safety threats posed by GenX and other emerging contaminants.

"Protecting the water we drink and the air we breathe is critical, and my budget recommendations will give state agencies the tools they need to continue keeping North Carolina families healthy," Cooper said in a statement. "Our administration has taken strong action to hold polluters accountable, but we need meaningful investments in water testing, permitting and scientific analysis to protect our environment statewide."

GenX, an unregulated chemical used in the production of Teflon and other materials, has been found in the Cape Fear River, which provides drinking water to Wilmington and surrounding areas, and in private wells near the Chemours plant in Bladen County that produces the chemical.

Cooper last year sought $2.6 million for the state Department of Environmental Quality and the state Department of Health and Human Services to study GenX and its long-term health effects, but lawmakers provided only $435,000 to the local water authority in Wilmington and scientists at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington studying GenX.

The House and the Senate couldn't agree during a five-week special session in January and February on additional GenX funding. The House offered $2.3 million, including funds to buy a high-resolution mass spectrometer to identify chemicals in state rivers and drinking supplies. The Senate countered with $2.4 million in one-time funds for DEQ to clear a backlog in reviewing and approving wastewater discharge permits and study possible air emissions of GenX.

Cooper said he now wants $7 million for DEQ to hire 39 people to collect and analyze water samples statewide and identify potential sources of contamination in groundwater, surface water, wastewater, soil and sediment. The appropriation also would address the backlog of wastewater permit renewals and allow the Division of Air Quality to collect rainwater and analyze potential air pollutants across the state, he said.

Another $4.4 million would help DEQ "transform the industrial permitting process and bring it into the 21st century" by providing online access and tracking for all permits, the governor said.

Cooper is seeking $1.5 million to upgrade DEQ's 27-year-old Reedy Creek Laboratory, which performs analysis for water quality, water resources, and air quality, and $1 million for new equipment and personnel to conduct analysis.

"Budgets are about priorities, and our budget request shows that our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of all North Carolinians, DEQ Secretary Michael Regan said in a statement. "We cannot do our job to the best of our ability without the technology and staff to actively monitor pollution in our state. We ask that the legislature partner with us to adequately fund DEQ for the first time in nearly a decade."

DHHS would get $536,000 under Cooper's proposal to hire health experts to identify adverse health effects due to toxic substances, as well as ways to prevent those effects.

"This budget request strengthens our ability to protect the health and safety of all North Carolinians," DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said in a statement. "We need specialized staff to continue to address emerging trends and support our mission."

The state has set a health goal for GenX at 140 parts per trillion, a miniscule amount considered to be safe for a baby to ingest. But the substance has not been fully studied, and its related chemicals are considered carcinogens, which triggered a multi-hundred-million-dollar payout in a lawsuit out of West Virginia. A state scientific advistory board is studying the issue to determine whether to adjust the health standard.

Municipal water supplies have been declared safe by both state and local officials, but Chemours has been ordered to purchase bottled water for dozens of well users.

Still, DEQ has threatened to revoke Chemours' wastewater permit for GenX discharges into the Cape Fear River and tighten its air quality permit to stifle emissions from the plant's stacks.