GenX no longer on agenda for legislative panel overseeing environment

Posted December 13, 2017 7:07 p.m. EST

— As state regulators ordered chemical maker Chemours on Wednesday to supply bottled water to 30 more households near its Bladen County plant, the General Assembly's major environmental oversight commission didn't even address the water contamination problem associated with the plant.

Out of about 350 private wells near the Chemours plant tested so far, two-thirds have had GenX in them, and half of those had levels of the chemical above the state's goal of 140 parts per trillion. Overall, 115 households have been found to have contaminated wells.

GenX is an unregulated compound used to make Teflon and other items. It has been found to cause cancer in mice, but because it hasn't been studied extensively, the health effect of long-term exposure in humans is unknown.

Chemours and its predecessor company, DuPont, have dumped GenX into the Cape Fear River for years until state officials asked them to stop this summer. Chemours and the state Department of Environmental Quality have since been fighting over renewing the wastewater discharge permit at the Fayetteville Works plant.

Some House lawmakers want to take up legislation on GenX during a special session scheduled for Jan. 10, but the issue wasn't even mentioned Wednesday at the Environmental Review Commission, the top oversight body on the matter.

The ERC held one meeting on GenX in August. After that, the House and the Senate set up separate committees to look at the issue. Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, the chairman of the ERC, said House and Senate leaders made the decision to take GenX away from his commission, but having other panels handling it does free up the ERC to deal with the other environmental issues.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it circles back to the ERC," McGrady said. "You know, if you've got different recommendations out of the House and Senate, send it back to the ERC, and let us sort it out in advance of the short session."

Commission member Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, said she's been told the Senate is less willing than the House to take action on GenX, which is why it was taken away from the joint panel.

"This would have been the purview of the ERC – that's normally what we would have undertaken – but I guess there's some politics at play here," Harrison said. "I'm just glad we have a substantive committee in the House trying to do something about it."

Harrison says any legislation should include more money for DEQ to address GenX.

Lawmakers this year cut positions at the agency, and DEQ leaders told lawmakers Tuesday that they don't have enough staff to handle all of their work.