We need to clear up once and for all whether a chemical compound produced by Chemours Fayetteville Works is making us sick, killing us or just scaring the heck out everybody.
Some background. Chemours – formerly DuPont – produces GenX, a chemical compound used to make nonstick coatings on pots and frying pans. It’s also been labeled a potential cancer-causing toxin, which naturally has people in the area around the plant worried. The stuff has been showing up in above-recommended levels in the Cape Fear River, a couple of lakes and in nearby private wells.
Late last month, the state reported finding GenX on the east side of the Cape Fear River in five more wells, directly across from the Chemours Plant. Apparently, the stuff travels through the air as well as through groundwater.
Chemours is located between N.C. Highway 87 to the west and Cape Fear River to the east on the Bladen/Cumberland County line.
Word got out this past June that researchers had found GenX in the Cape Fear River a year earlier. In fact, it’s been swimming in the river since 1980.
Research has linked the chemical to tumors in small animals, but there is no definite link to humans yet. In almost every report about GenX, there’s a qualifying statement referring to it as a potential hazard to humans. Currently, state officials claim it’s not dangerous to humans if the discharge is 140 parts per trillion or less. To me, that’s like being just a little pregnant.
I think it’s time to set the record straight. How does GenX affect humans? People whose wells are affected and those living downriver deserve to know exactly how this chemical affects their health. Calling it potentially dangerous without sound scientific proof does nothing but cause undue fear.
Remember, the stuff is made so we can fry our eggs without butter. We use it daily, in muffin pans, pots and other cookware. How much of it do we eat when we scrape our eggs out of a pan that should have been thrown out as soon as its cooking surface started to show signs of wear?
So, where’s the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on this? When Flint, Michigan, had its lead-contaminated drinking water crisis in 2014, the CDC was all over it.
The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act directs the CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry to study the health effects on humans from perflorinated chemicals, which includes GenX. The study is due for completion in December 2023. But that timetable doesn’t help the people living near the Chemours site having to drink bottled water.
So far, the people living downriver seem to be OK. Wilmington’s Sweeney Water Plant for the past several months also ran tests for GenX. The resuts consistently registered below the 140 parts per trillion level, with one high reading at 98 ppt.
What about our General Assembly? The Senate hasn’t moved on this issue yet. But the House has been busy. Nov. 30, state Department of Environmental Quality staff briefed members of the House Select Committee on NC River Quality on the latest surface and groundwater monitoring and air emissions from Chemours. They also reported on state enforcement actions for an unreported chemical spill at Chemours.
Based on that information, the legislative committee approved a proposed bill Jan. 4 to deal with the “potentially carcinogenic compound found in the Cape Fear River. “
At this writing, the General Assembly was scheduled to consider the bill during a Wednesday, Jan. 10, special daylong session.
The bill authorizes the state Department of Health and Human Services to work with scientists on coming up with health goals for contaminants. It also directs the DEQ to study the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting process and to coordinate and share water quality data with neighboring states.
In the meantime, we still don’t know if GenX – even at 140 ppt – is harming us, or worse.