Two years later, where do we stand on GenX?

Updated: Jun. 7, 2019 at 4:48 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - It has been two years since news broke that the chemical compound known as GenX was found in the drinking water of thousands of people in the Cape Fear region. This unknown contaminant sparked fear and outrage across the area.

Two years and countless meetings, protests, water samples, and lawsuits later, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority says the water is far safer to drink than it was before GenX started making headlines.

“It’s been two years but we’ve accomplished a lot in two years," said Jim Flechtner, the executive director of CFPUA. “We’ve seen the levels of these contaminants produce not only in the river, but also in the finished water that we are drinking. We’re taking steps so that our plant can filter these compounds from our drinking water very effectively.”

After calls from the community and political leaders, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has been forced to hold Chemours, the company responsible for dumping the chemical into the the Cape Fear River, responsible.

"We’re taking legal action against Chemours because we believe our customers shouldn’t pay for this. And we’re also working with the state because the real answer to this is that these contaminants shouldn’t be in the environment to begin with,” Flechtner said.

Flechtner said the true answer to the ongoing problems is to have proper regulation and proper enforcement on a state level. Despite that, he said, CFPUA tests the drinking water before and after it is treated on a weekly basis.

“Our water is cleaner than it used to be. We understand where these contaminants are coming from, and we’ve taken steps to stop it. We’re also holding those accountable through legal action who have put these contaminants in the environment.

Two years ago, the levels of GenX and other toxic chemicals were estimated to be about 130,000 parts per trillion. Currently, levels of GenX in the river are measuring at 150 parts per trillion, Flechtner said.

"Because of some of our work at our plant, we’re reducing that to about 60 parts per trillion in the finished water. So levels are down considerable. They have never have been that high to begin with, but the good news is we’ve been able to bring them down,” he said.

Throughout the past two years, community activists have attended forums and meetings, demanding clean water. Those efforts are finally paying off.

“Our community is very engaged and that’s a great thing. The more active our customers are the more active our community is, the better results we’re going to get. So it’s encouraging to see all the grassroots efforts, the political efforts, regulatory efforts to bring the best water for this community. So while our focus is changed, I think we all understand where these compounds are coming from, from the upstream discharges and holding them accountable and responsible for what’s happened is important. And it’s very rewarding for me to see so many people in our community working on this issue,” Flechtner said.

In the next two years, the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant will receive a granular activated carbon filter to remove more GenX and other contaminants from the drinking water.

“We’re finishing up design on the granular activated carbon filters we added to our Sweeney Water Treatment Plant that will bring these levels down even further. So the water will be significantly cleaner. And it’s another barrier of protection. We can’t rely on these upstream companies to tell us what they’re putting in the river,” he said.

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