RiverKeeper on GenX

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In June of 2017 local media reported that a toxic chemical named GenX was being discharged into the Cape Fear River by DuPont.  Follow along with our updates as the story unfolds and we fight for your right to clean water.

7/7/17 Update – We have teamed up with local activists to form the Clean Cape Fear coalition. You can view answers to some of your GenX Questions here!

June 21st – CFRW hosts Community Forum and Riverkeeper makes statement:

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There are a great deal of unknowns right now related to GenX in our River.

But, I want to start out with what I do know, and it is this: there is no job, no return on investment, no profit margin, and no contribution to the tax base that is worth poisoning our drinking water supply. Period.

I want to address a few of the questions that I have heard in the many conversations I have had on this issue.

Question: 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.

Question: 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. Which brings up another frequent question…

Question: Why didn’t regulators protect us? Government regulation is meant to be a check on corporate overreach. Did regulators drop the ball here? Maybe. But, let’s dig a little deeper into this. The NC General Assembly has cut the Department of Environmental Quality’s budget by approximately 40% over the last 4 years and additional budget cuts are currently proposed and awaiting final votes in the coming weeks. There is less money, less staff, fewer regional offices, and at the same time there are new laws passed by industry boosters in Raleigh, that make enforcement more difficult. Chemours’ permit is expired. In fact, so are dozens, if not hundreds, of others in NC. Cutting regulatory staff while the backlog of expired permits grows is reckless and backwards. The EPA is heading down the same path. There has been an outright attack on science at the national and state levels and if we as Americans continue to allow Science to be steam-rolled by corporate greed, we are going to have to lay down in the bed we have made. This plays out locally too. In light of a significantly weaker national regulatory climate and a state regulatory agency trying to recover from years of neglect, we need strong local protections, like a strong Special Use Permit, that put control of our health and environment in our hands – not the hands of polluters.

Chemours’ announcement yesterday evening that they would voluntarily cease discharging GenX in to the river is…encouraging. But, it also raises 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?

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.

 

Remember your 4th grade science class. Our bodies are mostly water. We drink water from the Cape Fear River. Therefore, we are mostly Cape Fear River. If the river is healthy, we are healthy. If the river suffers, we suffer. Don’t forget that.

 

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June 11, 2017  the Cape Fear Riverkeeper responds:
The revelation that toxic GenX from Dupont’s discharge into the Cape Fear River – upstream of the drinking water supply for hundreds of thousands of us – is a stark and frightening reminder that our health is tied directly to the health of our river.

Clearly this discharge of GenX must stop – immediately, until we know more about the impacts. Federal and state regulators need to step in and require that DuPont fully disclose the details of its GenX discharge. Dupont, as the source of the hazardous discharge, needs to pay for increased monitoring and research on the impacts on GenX.

But the problem is bigger than this most recent incident. Sadly, GenX is not the only pollutant regularly discharged into the river. The river, our drinking water supply, needs protection. Industry along its banks, including the thousands of factory farms that discharge staggering amounts of untreated animal waste, must be monitored and regulated to protect the river, and ultimately our health.

Treating water, even with advanced treatment processes, is only treating the symptoms of the problem, not the problem itself. And as we see now, it isn’t always effective. The idea that we should treat our drinking water after it is polluted by industry, rather than keeping it clean in the first place, is flawed and very dangerous. It puts the cost on our Public Water Treatment facilities and ultimately on the public, while allowing industry a free pass to profits they should be spending on pollution reduction and treatment. That’s not right.

In today’s political climate, nationally and here in North Carolina, there is a clear agenda underway to weaken environmental protection laws, defund regulatory agencies, and scale back programs designed to protect and improve our environment. Clearly, placing an entire water supply in jeopardy demonstrates why this trend must be reversed. Our health and the health of our children hang in the balance.

Kemp Burdette
Cape Fear Riverkeeper

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June 14th 2017 – Cape Fear River Watch sends letter to local representatives requesting we attend a closed meeting between Chemours and local and state government officials regarding GenX:

Cape Fear River Watch (CFRW) requests presence at the Thursday, June 15th meeting between Chemours and local and state government officials regarding GenX.  CFRW is an environmental non-profit organization established in 1994, and our mission is to protect and improve the water quality of the Cape Fear River through education, advocacy and action.  GenX is clearly a Cape Fear River water quality issue and we would like to have a representative from CFRW at the meeting.  Our (over 950) members, our staff, our Board of Directors and our community are all deeply concerned about the potential effects of GenX.  Our staff could prove extremely beneficial to county and city officials, in providing essential and likely unmatched knowledge about the Cape Fear River during questioning and discussion with Chemours.

We look forward to your positive response regarding attendance.

Thanks,
Frank Yelverton
CFRW Executive Director

 

Resources

Study from New Jersey where they analyzed best ways to remove some of these contaminants including PFOC and PFOS.  Read here – pfna-pfc-treatment

2016 EPA  information on these contaminants (although we feel we need actual “safe limit values” on these and others.)
Read here – EPAdrinkingwaterhealthadvisories_pfoa_pfos_updated_5.31.16