Wilmington Officials Want GenX Production Shut Down

Mar 9, 2018

Wilmington city officials are asking the state Department of Environmental Quality to order Chemours to halt the production of GenX and other unregulated perfluorinated compounds.
Credit Rusty Jacobs / WUNC

Wilmington city officials have had enough. The City Council unanimously passed a resolution this week asking the state Department of Environmental Quality to order Chemours to halt the production of GenX and other unregulated perfluorinated compounds.

The Wilmington Star-News first reported last June that for years Chemours had been discarding wastewater containing GenX into the Cape Fear River, contaminating drinking water downstream. GenX is a chemical used in non-stick surfaces such as Teflon. DuPont, the company from which Chemours spun off, developed GenX as a replacement for C8, a known carcinogen.

The human health effects of GenX are not known, though its half-life, or the amount of time it would last in the human body, is shorter than C8. However, GenX has been linked to cancer and other harmful conditions in lab animals.

"The company has clearly not been able to contain this flourochcemical compound into the Cape Fear River," said Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, in a telephone interview.

Saffo also said he does not think it is fair for municipalities to bear the brunt of dealing with what he deems a public health crisis.

"It puts pressure on the local water and sewer authorities, as well as cities that run their own water systems, to make large investments in filtration systems to protect the water supply," Saffo said.

Chemours did not immediately return WUNC's request for comment.

Calls for Chemours To Stop Production Grow

The council's resolution follows similar measures approved last month by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority and the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners.

Chemours stopped discharging GenX into the Cape Fear last year amid the outcry over the contamination. The company has been capturing wastewater containing GenX and carting it off-site for incineration and deep-well injection.

In November, the state Department of Environmental Quality suspended Chemours' wastewater permit and started a 60-day revocation period. The company has appealed the revocation to North Carolina's Office of Administrative Hearings but the suspension remains in effect.

Levels of GenX in the Cape Fear near the Chemours facility in Bladen County continue to spike following spills at the plant and after rain storms. Shifting wind patterns have carried airborne GenX far and wide, as evidenced by rainwater samples collected on the campus of UNC Wilmington, close to 80 miles from the company's Fayetteville Works site.

Airborne GenX has also settled in residential wells closer to the Chemours plant.

DEQ Spokeswoman Bridget Munger said in an email statement the agency will continue to gather evidence and use every avenue available to hold Chemours accountable for their actions against the people of North Carolina.

"The department must follow the law and regulations currently on the books. DEQ has suspended Chemours permit to discharge processed wastewater from the GenX manufacturing units," Munger said. "In addition, the department has issued two notices of violation and is requiring the company to complete site mitigation to stop the discharge of GenX through stormwater runoff during rain events."

Munger added that DEQ is closely tracking the Chemours facility’s air emissions and determining what steps to take to curb their environmental effects.