WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Local and state leaders met face-to-face with representatives from Chemours in a closed-door meeting Thursday to learn more details about GenX, an unregulated compound that has been found in the Cape Fear River.
It was revealed in the meeting that in 1980, Chemours - an offshoot of Dupont - began a vinyl ether process at its Fayetteville Works site located about 100 miles up the Cape Fear River from Wilmington. An unintended byproduct of that process is GenX.
Chemours officials said they don't emit any GenX from the plant that is dedicated to producing the chemical, thus abiding by a 2009 EPA consent order that required 99 percent control or capture of the material.
"In fact, we capture 100 percent of GenX so the likely question on your minds would be, 'If you capture 100 percent of GenX, how's GenX getting in the river?,'" said Kathy O'Keefe, product sustainability director for Chemours. "It's a different production unit on site where [GenX] is an unintended byproduct."
GenX is a man-made chemical that is used to produce fluoropolymers such as Teflon. Chemours began commercially producing GenX in 2009 after Dupont ceased the use of C8, also known as PFOA, after studies revealed exposure to certain levels of C8 may result in adverse health effects in humans.
Local, state leaders speak out at news conference
Following the meeting, local and state representatives addressed the public during a news conference.
"First, Chemours plans to continue to discharge GenX and is permitted to do so," New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chairman Woody White said. "Two, there has been additional testing done since 2013 and the analysis from Chemours is forthcoming and will be reviewed and analyzed by our state regulators to determine their accuracy.
"Three, Chemours' models indicate that abatement technology installed in 2013 estimates that it dropped levels of GenX from 631 part per trillion to 96 points per trillion, a statement we hope will be confirmed or rebutted by the Department of Environmental Quality.
"Fourth and finally, we have asked that Chemours bring this discharge to zero percent. They have not committed to do so as of yet."
Michael Regan, secretary of the NC Department of Environmental Quality, also spoke at the press conference.
"On the behalf of the State of North Carolina, let me begin by saying we all agree that the protection of the quality of the water that we drink is the No. 1 priority," Regan said. "What I can tell you is based on the best available data from sampling from 2013 and 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services has determined there was a low-health risk in association with exposure to this compound. Based on their evaluation, we believe this is a low-risk situation."
Regan also said that Chemours officials said they believe the company has reduced discharge by 80 percent. Regan said that the state has asked for proof of this. He also added that testing of the Cape Fear River will begin next week, and samples will be sent to Colorado.
"These are calculations," O'Keefe said. "They are not actual samples that have been taken and we recognize it would be better to have actual samples that have been taken; I think that's what your expectation would be.
"We're committed to (sampling). The activities are underway. It's our expectation that we would show the levels of GenX in the Cape Fear River have been going down because of the abatement technology that's been put in place."
O'Keefe also said during the meeting that the level of lead in the water in Flint, Michigan, during its crisis was between 30,000 and 50,000 per trillion.
Mayor Bill Saffo got a loud cheer from those attending the press conference when he said that Chemours needs to suspend its production until the situation is under control.
"We did pose the question to the company, can you get to zero (percent discharge)? And if so, how quickly?" White said. "We got about a three-minute answer that said there is one system we're looking at that, if the answer is yes, it's going to take us about a month to do it, and we're going to do it.
"The other answer was if that doesn't work, it's going to take awhile. It was not a satisfactory answer but it was the best answer they gave."
White was also asked if it was true that they served the Chemours officials tap water.
"We did," White said. "They didn't drink it. I didn't see them drink it. But I drank it because I was thirsty."
According to notes from the meeting, O'Keefe gave introductory comments for Chemours.
"Your concerns are our concern and we really want to be part of the solution and make sure we can provide as much information as possible to you," O'Keefe said. "Our belief is that the GenX level in the drinking water coming from the Cape Fear River is safe and it does not pose any harm to human health. We have that belief; we're confident in that belief. We have extensive health and safety data for GenX.
"We provided a lot of safety studies to the EPA; they asked for some more. They asked for seven more studies in that process. We conducted those studies and we provided them to the EPA years ago and there was no further action on them."
About 30 people were protesting inside the New Hanover County Government Center, where the meeting took place.