Regulators demand data on possible airborne GenX release

Posted September 21, 2017 9:34 a.m. EDT
Updated September 21, 2017 10:44 a.m. EDT

NC Flag, Legislative Building, Raleigh

— Regulators from the state's environmental agency are asking the chemical company under investigation for releasing unregulated compounds into the Cape Fear River for more data about whether those same compounds were released into the air.

In a letter dated Wednesday, the Department of Environmental Quality gave Chemours two weeks to provide five years of data on emissions tests and other information related to GenX, a largely unstudied compound used to make Teflon and other products. The company has an additional week to provide data on other related industrial chemicals also considered "emerging contaminants."

GenX was designed to replace a toxic and carcinogenic substance called C8 previously used by DuPont, which shed its chemical division Chemours in 2015. GenX is in a similar family of compounds, but the effect of exposure to the chemical – either by air or by water – is mostly unknown.

The Fayetteville Observer first reported Monday that the state was looking into the possibility of airborne releases of GenX.

But it was unclear whether air emissions had become a new focus or was merely part of the overall DEQ investigation, which the agency launched in June following reports from the Wilmington StarNews detailing contamination in the Cape Fear River. The river is the primary source of drinking water for Brunswick, Bladen, New Hanover and Pender counties.

In an email to WRAL News Monday afternoon, DEQ spokeswoman Jill Lucas said the investigation was "part of a comprehensive look at all potential impacts."

Those impacts included "whether there was the potential for Chemours to emit GenX and other compounds into the air," according to a statement from DEQ Division of Air Quality Director Mike Abraczinskas.

As recently as Wednesday – the day the letter was provided to Chemours – DEQ spokesman Jamie Kritzer said the agency's probe of airborne emissions had been ongoing since June.

Lucas said in an email Thursday morning that she didn't know if anything had changed to trigger the request in the letter, which she said "has been in process."

"(The Division of Air Quality) has been actively engaged in this topic since June," Lucas said. "We have been conducting an internal review and determined that we needed to ask Chemours for additional data on emission of GenX and other emerging contaminants."

Chemours spokesman Gary Cambre said the company is "continuing to work closely with local, state and federal officials to determine the appropriate next steps."

But the company earlier this month shot back at the state regulatory agency following a consent order requiring Chemours to stop the release of GenX and other similar chemicals. The company's attorney accused DEQ of treating the firm unfairly and argued that there's no evidence these "trace level discharges represent an acute health risk or other public health emergency."

The agency responded by saying it's "focused on results."