DEQ, DHHS seek $2.6M to monitor, study GenX

Posted August 8, 2017 2:51 p.m. EDT

Wilmington waterfront

— Two state agencies are asking lawmakers for about $2.6 million combined to monitor GenX contamination in the Cape Fear River and study the health effects of ingesting the unregulated chemical compound.

GenX was found in June in the river, which is a drinking water source for Wilmington and surrounding communities. A Bladen County plant that produces the chemical has stopped discharging it into the river, and Gov. Roy Cooper said recently that his administration will block any new permit allowing such discharges to resume.

"While we have deployed our staff experts to address the immediate challenges, long-term solutions such as rigorous water testing and scrutiny of water discharge permits will take more resources than the State of North Carolina currently maintains in our departments," Secretary of Environmental Quality Michael Regan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen said in a letter sent Tuesday to lawmakers in the region.

Since 2013, about 70 positions have been eliminated in DEQ that had supported the permitting, compliance and enforcement programs.

"North Carolina families deserve to have confidence in their drinking water," Regan said in a statement. "It is critical that we have the engineers and environmental specialists necessary to put science first to protect our water."

DEQ would get the bulk of the requested funding – a little more than $2 million. It would pay for checking GenX levels in the river for a full year and hiring 16 scientists in the Division of Water Resources to address unregulated compounds in water discharge permits and ease the two-year backlog in reviewing and issuing wastewater permits.

The $531,000 earmarked for DHHS would go toward hiring four people for a Water Health and Safety Unit in the Division of Public Health to study environmental toxicity, conduct high-level analysis on GenX, formulate strategies to mitigate harmful health effects and provide educational materials and briefings to the public.

"We will continue to redirect available resources to address this urgent need. However, recent budget cuts and the large scope and pressing nature of this challenge require your help," Regan and Cohen said in their letter to lawmakers, requesting that they address the issue during an upcoming special legislative session.