WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - In a Facebook Live session in the WECT newsroom on Thursday, Woody White, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners chairman, said he still has questions about not only GenX contamination in the Cape Fear River, but other chemical pollutants as well.
White attended a private, invitation-only meeting between representatives from Chemours, the company that is discharging GenX in the Cape Fear, and county and state officials on Thursday in Wilmington.
While discussing the GenX matter with WECT's Frances Weller Thursday evening, White said that learning about chemicals getting into the river as long ago as 1980 was as alarming as the most recent revelation.
"We're downstream here," White said, referring to the location of Chemours' North Carolina plant 73 miles northwest of Wilmington in Fayetteville. "What's troubled me a lot about what I've learned today is that a lot of stuff was in that water in the '80s and '90s and 2000s. That water's already flowed downstream. It's been consumed by people. Our citizens expect safe drinking water and the only way to do that and to know that is to have scientists who regulate it tell us."
Reports so far have deemed tap water safe to drink, but UNCW marine biology professor Larry Cahoon said he is not drinking it and encouraged select groups, including pregnant women and young children, to follow suit.
White reiterated that under state guidelines, Wilmington tap water is considered safe, but he added that, like a lot of people in the area, he wants to know more about GenX, which is an unregulated toxin, and its effects.
"Does (the water being labeled OK to drink) mean there aren't concerns? Absolutely not," White said. "There are huge concerns, huge unanswered questions. (Chemours') premise of that it's unlikely to cause a health risk is based on studies from (2013 and '14). We need updated studies. We need studies right now.
"(Chemours) committed in this meeting to sharing all this with state regulators. That's why this meeting was so important."
The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority knew about GenX in the water in May 2016, and while White commended the CFPUA on its history of testing drinking water, he would have liked more communication on the issue from people in the organization.
"This substance by definition is unregulated so there was no way of knowing until they did," White said. "Should commissioners, its own board, have known? Absolutely.
"If they had asked these questions late last summer, early last fall, (the NC Department of Environmental Quality) would have had a head start. That's the reason you get it out there.
"They could have done a lot more sooner, but I'm happy to hear they're doing something now to get to the bottom of it. There's more we're going to need to hear and they're going to need to get it right next time."