GenX – what happened & what now?

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Well here we are, with a toxic compound in the Cape Fear River -GenX. How did it all go down? What is GenX? How are they allowed to do this? What is CFRW doing about it?

Let’s talk about how it all went down – in June of 2017 the local news broke the story – GenX found in the drinking water of parts of New Hanover and Brunswick Counties. The GenX was coming from Chemours, a DuPont spinoff on the Cape Fear River. We understood that 300,000 citizens in our community were drinking toxic water since the GenX was able to make it through our water filtration system and into our homes. We also heard that there was a toxic cocktail of other similar compounds in our river. We responded with a letter asking to be present in a closed door meeting with Chemours and our local officials. We were DENIED, but you can read that letter here.

Next Chemours announced that they would voluntarily cease discharging GenX in to the river which was encouraging. But, it also raised questions. Why stop a discharge that company officials assured the public was safe just as an EPA investigation, including river sampling, was commencing? If it was so easy to stop discharging GenX why hadn’t the company stopped long ago, especially given the 16 reports they filed under the Toxic Substance Control Act, acknowledging the strong potential for significant impacts on human health related to GenX? What prevents Chemours from deciding later that they will simply begin discharging again? What are the impacts of decades of dumping perfluorinated compounds into our drinking water supply? How will the company ensure us that our drinking water is safe, now and in the future?

The day after the announcement we hosted a Public Forum to address some of your questions, chat about the issue at hand and hear your concerns. Your Riverkeeper made a powerful statement. Read it here.  We teamed up with Clean Cape Fear to reach more citizens in our community. Check out Clean Cape Fear here.   Clean Cape Fear has a petition asking Chemours to stop all discharges and pay for the clean up, sign it here today.

One June 19th DEQ began their investigation into GenX and samples were taken in the Cape Fear and sent to be tested for GenX – VIEW THOSE RESULTS HERE.

On June 27th the NC Department of Environmental Quality found that Chemours was capturing wastewater into storage tanks for shipment and burning in Arkansas, we hope this continues long into the future and all of the impacts to our health and environment are addressed and mitigated. We want to know that there are ZERO toxins flowing into our river.

Your Riverkeeper has been working very hard during this water crisis. He has been going to a lot of meetings, (we said a lot right?) talking to a lot of scientists, professionals, experts and anyone else who can lead us in the right direction. We are fighting for you Wilmington, you deserve clean water.  We will keep the pressure on big industry – they should not have a green light to pollute your water.

Fast forward to today – we still have a lot of questions that are unanswered and we know you do too. Let’s chat about a few of the questions we hear most:

What is this stuff? Chemours website says its “a patented, more sustainable technology” that was “developed by DuPont and now enables Chemours to manufacture high-performance fluoropolymers without the use of PFOA.” Leaves you asking… more sustainable that what? Answer – C8, GenX’s predecessor. GenX was the more sustainable than C8, a toxic chemical that Dupont is reportedly paying out to the tune of $670 million (so far).  They even created a Science Panel to study C8 as part of one of the suits. The website outright links several health issues to C8. See that website here. Don’t miss the probable links reports.

So GenX is different right – well they say it is. It’s two carbons less – C8 is an eight carbon chain and GenX is a six carbon chain. Our very own Madi Polera discusses just that here. 

Why have this toxic compound around in the first place? To make products like teflons, rain jackets, fire foam and most of all – to make money.

Is it bad for us? Well C8 has been proven to be, which is only different by 2 carbons. The truth is that GenX has not been around long enough for sufficient scientific study. We will unfortunately be the human lab rats in a sad money driven experiment.  For nonstick pans and rain jackets. Is it worth it?

Here is the 2016 EPA  information on contaminants similar to GenX-  EPAdrinkingwaterhealthadvisories_pfoa_pfos_updated_5.31.16

What about the toxic cocktail? Yes you heard that right, GenX might just be the tip of the iceberg. There are several other compounds in the Cape Fear. Read more about some of them here – PFECAs_Sun_ESTL2016 and here – CFR_Knappe_052417. How do these compounds interact with each other and their environment now that they are in the river? We would like to find out.
Check out the table below, this is from a drinking water contaminants study in the Cape Fear Watershed. Look at all the PF compounds in the Cape Fear – how do you feel about being the community in a study about chemicals in our water? Sure hits home.
 Read more about this table and what it means here. 

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*Mei Sun1,2, *, Elisa Arevalo2 , Mark Strynar3 , Andrew Lindstrom3 , Michael Richardson4 , Ben Kearns4 , Adam Pickett5 , Chris Smith6 , and Detlef R.U. Knappe2

How is Chemours allowed to discharge a hazardous chemical into our drinking water supply? How is this legal? Chemours is exploiting a loophole in their permit. They are gaming the system because they are powerful and they have an army of attorneys looking for ways to increase profits no matter the consequences for the rest of us. They chose not to tell downstream water providers that GenX was in the water. But, do not confuse legality with morality. Do not forget that just because Chemours claims that their discharge of GenX is technically legal, that it is ethical. It is not.  Dupont and their spin-off Chemours have proven that morality and ethics do not guide their actions – rather they are motivated by profits. Yet another story of polluters over people. They get richer, we get sicker.

What kind of treatment can I buy to make sure the water is safe for my family and I to drink? Folks, we should not have to buy expensive water treatment systems to filter out toxic pollutants from industrial discharges that are in our drinking water. Don’t lose sight of that simple fact. Clean water is our right. No industry has a right to rake in profits by willfully neglecting to treat their waste stream. I don’t care if it’s Chemours, or Duke Energy, or the thousands of factory farms in our watershed. Putting the cost of treating industrial waste on the backs of citizens is 100% wrong, everytime. Further, there are many people in our community who do not have the ability to buy additional water treatment systems. This is environmental injustice – when poor people or people of color do not have the same level of protection from environmental pollution as rich people, that’s is not right either. When it comes to environmental protection, those of us with the ability and the power to fight are obligated to fight for those of us that do not.

For those lucky enough to be able to afford it – most are drinking bottled water (remember to recycle!) or RO water. CFRW has no direct knowledge that any method works the best, if we do we will let you know. It’s still early and the details of this case are still unraveling.

Our stance is that the best way to keep these toxins out of our water is not to put them in in the first place. Read a powerful Op-Ed that states just such here. 

Where is my water coming from? Clean Cape Fear addresses that for you here!

Here is a resource we found so you can make an informed decision on your water intake:
Study from New Jersey where they analyzed best ways to remove some of these contaminants including PFOC and PFOS.  Read here – pfna-pfc-treatment

What is Cape Fear River Watch doing to protect me? Cape Fear River Watch takes this issue very seriously and there is much work to be done. The issue is made more complex by the many unknowns but here is where we are going to start.

  • We are going to push for a binding agreement that Chemours will not ever discharge GenX into our drinking water supply again.
  • We are going to push DEQ to add restrictions on the release of perfluorinated compounds like GenX in Chemours’ permit, which is currently up for review.
  • We are going to urge the EPA to thoroughly investigate Chemours past discharges into the Cape Fear and hold the company accountable for any and all illegal activity.
  • We are going to push the state to carefully study water quality and sediment in the river downstream of Chemours to ensure that our water is safe and we will investigate opportunities for independent sampling to confirm the State’s results.
  • We are going to dig into the lack of transparency at the CFPUA in an effort to ensure that citizens will never again be kept in the dark about an issue as important as our drinking water.

What can I do to support Cape Fear River Watch? We’re glad you asked. You can become a member of CFRW, join our mailing list our donate to or cause. JOIN here. Donate hereJoin our mailing list here. We do thank you!