CFPUA learned initial GenX findings in May 2016; chair calls for review

Published: Jun. 15, 2017 at 8:19 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 16, 2017 at 7:44 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Cape Fear Public Utility Authority Executive Director Jim Flechtner sent an email to all employees of the water utility this week commending the transparency of the organization in the wake of a revelation of the discharge of an unregulated chemical into the raw water supply coming from the Cape Fear River.

Not everyone agrees.

"I will also say however that I'm not satisfied with the timing of releasing it to our board and our staff and the health department, I know it may not have been an intentional act on their part," New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chairman Woody White said Thursday at a news conference.

As a result of the concerns, Board Chairman Mike Brown called for a review of CFPUA's role in communicating the results of the NC State study, which they first learned about more than a year ago in May 2016. Two staffers of the authority are listed as authors on the study, which was published last November.

Brown laid out a new time line Thursday of how CFPUA disseminated the information.

CFPUA staff received the initial findings from the NC State research team leading the original study on May 3, 2016. The study progressed, and a final draft was shared with CFPUA staff on September 25, 2016, shortly before the study was published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters on November 10, 2016. The study revealed traces of GenX in the Cape Fear River. 
The EPA—also an active participant in the NCSU study—through their approvals, allows 1% of the manufacturing waste stream of GenX to be discharged into the river. Because of this, it was not surprising that the study confirmed traces in the water. 
Upon confirmation of GenX in the Cape Fear River at the conclusion of this study, CFPUA staff implemented the same due diligence process it uses to study and review all scientific reports and emerging compounds. GenX is one of thousands of unregulated, permitted compounds, and CFPUA willingly participates in studies of these types of compounds on a regular basis.
CFPUA staff worked with the researchers to understand this unregulated, permitted compound, the results of the study, and what they might mean. Based on the information they gathered during this due diligence process, staff determined that additional research was needed to understand the real effects of GenX and potential water treatment options. Staff took their initial learnings and request for additional research to Executive Director Flechtner on March 20, 2017. Staff members continued in their due diligence process from there. 
As part of this due diligence process, Dr. Knappe's team came to present to the CFPUA water quality team meeting to present on the study on April 19, 2017, which NCDEQ representatives attended. 
Following this initial due diligence phase, staff notified the full board via email on June 5, 2017, and Mr. Flechtner secured permission from the Executive Committee of the Board on June 7, 2017 to send a formal request to NC Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) requesting additional research and regulations for this unregulated, permitted compound. Following Executive Committee approval, Mr. Flechtner submitted the letter via email on June 7, 2017. NCDEQ had been involved in this matter beginning as early as April 19, 2017 and at no time during the discussion with NCDEQ or EPA did they indicate that this confirmed presence of GenX posed a health risk or a public advisory was necessary.
CFPUA received a response from NCDEQ on June 9. As noted in their correspondence, the NCDEQ formally requested guidance from the EPA, "the sole agency responsible for establishing drinking water standards nationwide. The federal agency has extensive resources necessary to determine the nature, extent and potential impacts of chemicals such as GenX. As such, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality is awaiting guidance from the EPA that will provide [NCDEQ] with the information needed to begin developing regulatory limits for GenX.

Brown's account differs slightly from what Flechtner communicated to WECT Wednesday, when he stated he first found out about the chemical exposure on March 8, 2017.

Brown and Flechtner did not participate in the news conference following a private meeting with Chemours, the company that manufactures GenX upstream from Wilmington. In an emailed statement, Brown says board member and chemical engineer Jennifer Adams will lead the review and the findings will be released to the public.

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