RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday he’s directing state criminal investigators to see if a chemical plant violated any permits by discharging a little-studied chemical into a river that hundreds of thousands of people use for drinking water.
Cooper discussed his order to the State Bureau of Investigation while meeting with local officials in Wilmington, where there’s been an outcry since traces of the unregulated chemical GenX in water supplies was revealed this spring. There’s little scientific data about the relatively new chemical’s health effects.
Cooper also promised that chemical company Chemours will be barred under terms of a pending state permit from releasing GenX into the Cape Fear River alongside its Bladen County plant, which employs nearly 1,000 workers.
GenX has been used since 2009 to make Teflon and other non-stick products. It was developed to replace a different chemical — perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA — tied to increased cancer risk. The related nature of the compounds and their largely unknown health effects prompted the governor’s moves, Cooper spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said.
“Gov. Cooper wants to make sure that they do not discharge any more GenX into the river,” Weiner said, “because of some of the limited data and science that we have that shows its relationship to some of these other chemicals that have been studied more.”
Chemours didn’t respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment. The company said in a statement last month that it believes emissions from its Fayetteville facility have not affected the safety of drinking water.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein sent Chemours a letter Friday demanding documents related to the chemical’s safety and how it compares to PFOA.
While PFOA has not been identified as a carcinogen, studies in lab animals have found exposure increases the risk of certain tumors of the liver, testicles, breasts, and pancreas, the American Cancer Society says on its website. The state health agency this month further lowered its health-safety target for exposure to GenX. It’s a recommended target, not an enforceable limit.
There are no federal health standards on GenX. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as an “emerging contaminant” to be studied. Cooper has asked EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to complete the studies of GenX and set a maximum contaminant level.
Cooper said he’s also spoken with Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seeking a look at any potential long-term health effects of the compound.
The Cape Fear River is the main source of the water utility serving about 200,000 people in and around Wilmington, about 100 miles downstream of the Chemours plant.
The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority said Monday that test results at one treatment plant show GenX levels continue to be above the state’s recommended health goal. The utility is offering groundwater free of GenX to customers who want to come and fill their own containers at no cost.
There are no unusual cancer clusters in communities along the river, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said at a press conference Monday. The water remains safe to drink and fish from the river are safe to eat, she said.
“I drank the water this morning. I can continue to say as a physician and the leader of the department that folks can continue to drink the water but also that we will continue to do work in this space to make sure we are leaving no stone unturned,” Cohen said.
Chemours, which joined the Fortune 500 list of America’s largest companies last month, has spent five weeks rerouting GenX-laced wastewater from the river onto tankers which transport the water away for incineration.
DuPont, which spun off Chemours two years ago, developed the compound to replace PFOA, which accumulates in the body over time.
In February, DuPont and Chemours agreed to pay nearly $671 million to settle 3,500 lawsuits related to the release of PFOA from a Parkersburg, West Virginia, plant more than a decade ago. That was two months after a federal jury determined DuPont should pay $2 million to an Ohio man who says he got testicular cancer because of the company’s negligence over PFOA.
Information from: The StarNews, http://starnewsonline.com