Sometimes one views something and thinks, “Well that doesn’t affect me.” Then you find out it just might.
And so it is with the GenX debate. Up to this week I thought that was an issue for those areas drawing their drinking water from the Cape Fear River east of Fayetteville. Most notably, Wilmington and the counties of Pender, Brunswick, Bladen and New Hanover. GenX was discharged into this water by Chemours in Fayetteville. In reality, Chemours is a spin-off company of DuPont and it is actually located at the Cumberland, Bladen and Robeson county lines.
GenX is part of a family of chemicals that replaced older versions of compounds known to cause cancer in animals. The toxicity of the chemical has not been heavily researched, but it is very difficult to remove it from water. Because of its presence in the drinking water, concerns about the quality and safety of the water arose. To bring it into our world of knowledge, GenX is used to make Teflon.
In June Chemours agreed to discontinue discharging GenX into the river. However, further testing revealed other substances such as Nafion byproducts 1 and 2, which also have unclear health consequences. So the state had asked that they discontinue discharging these type substances. Now the state is considering pulling their permits for failure to disclose any of these issues.
So back to the beginning: Where do we fit in this? It turns out that monitoring wells at the edge of the Chemours site have revealed elevated levels of GenX. This translates to potentially affected private drinking wells. Testing will occur at the 97 addresses noted to be within one mile of the site. None of these are in Robeson County. However, what needs to be determined is if the public wells are at risk or is one mile actually the farthest affected distance. By the time this comes out there will have been a public hearing in St. Pauls to discuss the matter. Typically, regulators waffle when distances are involved so we can expect some changes.
So what’s at stake? Earlier this year, DuPont and Chemours settled 3,550 personal lawsuits for $671 million from claims regarding chemical leaks at the Parkersburg, W.Va., site that led to individuals being diagnosed with cancer. Amazingly, this was less than anticipated so their stocks actually rose. Yes, these are high stakes indeed.
Bill Smith is the director of the Robeson County Health Department.