One of the big questions lingering in our community since the revelation that an unregulated compound known as GenX is in the raw water supply for many in southeastern North Carolina has been when did our leaders become aware of the exposure.
One board member at the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority says he felt blindsided by the news. Charlie Rivenbark, also a Wilmington City Councilman, got word on the same day an article was published in the Wilmington StarNews.
He's not alone. Board member and New Hanover County Commissioner Patricia Kusek says she was surprised with the news.
"I'm an information person and by all means, the sooner we have information the better decisions we can make," Kusek said. "I was a little stunned that a report like that had gone on and there had been no more mention made to the board about that. Yes, I was disappointed in that."
We tried to ask Rivenbark about his email to CFPUA Executive Director Jim Flechtner last week saying "I feel rather blindsided on this," but Rivenbark deferred to Board Chairman Mike Brown to answer all questions.
"We participated in the study, collecting data," Mike Brown said when asked about when CFPUA knew about the study. "Since November we have been analyzing that data, speaking to the person that collected the data Dr. Knappe, doing our due diligence which has lead us up to this point where we reported up the chain to DEQ who of course permitted the discharge and that's why we are having the discussion today."
Two CFPUA staffers are listed as authors on the study that was published in November 2016, but it doesn't appear the information was disseminated until some time later.
Brown said he only personally learned of the GenX exposure in the last ten days and when we asked his response to a board member feeling blindsided, he abruptly ended an interview.
"I said I have time for one question. I appreciate it," Brown said.
"I just think people still have a lot of questions so can I talk to anyone for five minutes?" asked WECT's Connor DelPrete.
"Yeah, if you would like to submit questions we can respond to them," Brown said. "There is a process for doing that."
That process was through email, according to Brown. WECT sent a list of questions to the customer service representative and copied both Brown and Flechtner on the email at approximately 12:52 p.m. We received a response from Flechtner.
In the response, Flechtner said he learned about the exposure on March 8 this year, five months after the study was published.
"Staff followed protocol: They worked with the researchers to understand this unregulated, permitted compound, the results of the study, and what they might mean. They brought the information, along with their limited understanding of this compound, to Mr. Flechtner. Discussions with DEQ began on April 19, 2017," Flechtner emailed.
But why did it take seven months to go from publication to public knowledge? This is CFPUA's response.
There are numerous compounds that are not regulated by the EPA or DEQ. GenX is one of those. It is not regulated in terms of drinking water, which means there are no limits established because it’s too new of a compound. This was no different from any of our other studies of unregulated compounds. As CFPUA does with all scientific reports and emerging compounds, we went through our due diligence process, as noted above.
We have a responsibility to protect our customers. That’s why we are taking deliberate steps to get answers. We have a lot of questions, as do our customers.
Among many other things, we are seeking to understand the compound itself, and appropriate treatments for removing it from our water sources.
We’ve called on EPA and NCDEQ to provide guidance on the matter at hand; we need to understand what we’re dealing with. We remain in constant contact with DEQ and EPA.
CFPUA strictly adheres to all regulations, and can assure its drinking water meets or exceeds all federal and state regulations for safety.
Flechtner and Brown are listed as participants in a closed door meeting with the manufacturer of GenX Thursday at the Government Center in Wilmington. He is also invited to make public comments at a news conference after the private meeting.
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