State regulators await guidance from the EPA about unregulated toxin

State regulators await guidance from the EPA about unregulated toxin

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - State regulators say they're awaiting guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency after an unregulated toxin known as GenX was found in the Cape Fear River, the primary raw water supply for most of southeastern North Carolina.

In a letter to the Cape Fear Public Utility, Sheila Holman, assistant secretary for the NC Department of Environmental Quality, said they're working with the EPA and other agencies to better understand the toxin and any potential impacts it may have.

"The EPA is the sole agency responsible for establishing drinking water standards nationwide," Holman states in the letter. "The federal agency has extensive resources necessary to determine the nature, extent and potential impacts of chemicals such as GenX. As such, the [NCDEQ] is awaiting guidance from the EPA that will provide our agency with the information needed to begin developing regulatory limits on GenX."

Holman continues that it is important for people to know that the water from the CFPUA and other utilities in the area meet all state and federal drinking water standards.

"We recognize that the regulatory process can sometimes take considerable time. While we are awaiting guidance from the EPA, staff in DEQ will be working with Chemours to assess waste streams containing GenX and determine if the company can reduce the amount of chemical compound being discharged to the river," Holman said.

Chemours first introduced GenX in 2010 as an alternative to a compound known as C8 after evidence indicated potential negative health effects, including studies suggesting an increased risk to several cancers, due to long-term exposure to C8. There are few studies of the effects of exposure to GenX, although industry officials say a greater understanding of that is needed.

GenX is produced and being discharged into the water supply at a Chemours plant along the Bladen County line, upstream in the Cape Fear River.

The toxin can't currently be filtered out of the water supply by surface water processes operated by area water utilities.

Cape Fear Public Utility Authority issued a map to show which areas receive water from the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant versus areas that receive water from various groundwater sources. They noted that service areas are subject to change based on operational needs.

New Hanover County officials released a statement Monday saying they have spoken with area legislators and Michael Regan, secretary of the NCDEQ, about GenX. Regan told county officials that his agency is committed to getting answers and is assessing the situation with Chemours.

According to officials, Chemours agreed to a private meeting with New Hanover County officials who invited representatives from the city of Wilmington, CFPUA, Brunswick County, Pender County, and the NCDEQ to attend.

That meeting is closed to the public and will take place on June 15 at the New Hanover County Government Center. A local pool reporter will attend the meeting and share a full accounting of the meeting with media.

A press conference will also take place shortly after the meeting.

On Monday evening, NC Representative Deb Butler said funding for the NCDEQ is of vital importance in the wake of GenX being found. Budget cuts have been proposed for the agency and other environmental protection services in the US.

"The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality needs adequate funding to do their jobs," Butler said. "The recent proposed budget cuts will slash their budget, reduce vital staff positions, and lead to an inability to adequately protect our drinking water supply. We have the budgetary capability to fully fund this vital agency and we should immediately put partisan bickering aside for the sake of clean water. To do otherwise is malfeasance…pure and simple."

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