WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A meeting between local leaders and the maker of the chemical compound that has many in southeastern North Carolina worried about the safety of our drinking water has wrapped up in New Hanover County.
The meeting with GenX maker Chemours, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority and other government officials started at 11:30 a.m. and lasted 96 minutes.
In a news conference after the meeting, North Carolina Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan said his department will begin collecting new water samples from the Cape Fear River as early as next week. Regan says he is waiting for testing materials from a lab in Colorado that can test for GenX.
“We must have current data,” Regan said. “We must make sound decisions on current data.”
Regan said Chemours will pay for all costs of the testing.
Representatives from Chemours and the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority did not take part in the news conference.
Regan also said Chemours claims that it has lowered the amount of GenX in the river 80 percent since 2014. Regan says he has asked the company for proof of that.
Local leaders were firmer in their demands. New Hanover County Commission Chair Woody White, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, Brunswick County Commission Chair Frank Williams and Pender County Commission Chair George Brown all said they want Chemours to stop releasing GenX into the river until more information is available. They said the company would not agree to it.
Saffo took it a step farther by asking the NC Department of Environmental Quality and the US Environmental Protection Agency to stop Chemours from releasing wastewater with the toxin until it is deemed safe.
White pointed out that Chemours is trying to renew its permit to pull 26 million gallons of water a day from the Cape Fear River to use, treat and presumably release back into the water. Regan said the company’s current discharge permit expired back in October, but it is still valid until a new permit is issued. Assistant Secretary of Environmental Quality Sheila Holman said the new information would be considered in the permit review process.
White said Chemours representatives admitted that their work to produce GenX at their facility near the Bladen-Cumberland county line is regulated to keep it from releasing it into the river, but that the GenX in the river is a byproduct of making vinyl in another part of the facility. White said they told leaders that process and the creation of GenX as a byproduct is not regulated.
White said when they asked Chemours what it would take to get rid of all the GenX in the water, they received two answers. He said one was that the company is looking at a process that, if it works, could be up and running in a month. On the other hand, though, Chemours said if that process does not work, it could take a while to find a solution.
According to White, the representatives from Chemours at the meeting were served tap water. He said he did not know if they drank it, but he said he did, because he was thirsty.
CFPUA Executive Director Jim Flechtner told WWAY he learned about the presence of GenX in the water in November. But the public and even many members and leaders of CFPUA and New Hanover County did not learn about the issue until the StarNews report last week. That has many people upset. White said while he thinks CFPUA does a good job monitoring water quality, he is not pleased with the timing and handling of how the information was released.
Dozens of protesters gathered outside the New Hanover County Government Center, where the meeting was held, with signs, chants and a citizen soap box.
As invited attendees arrived, some protestors asked members from CFPUA if the water bottles they were carrying had tap water in them.
Wilmington resident Virginia Gates says they just want some answers.
“Until you can prove it to me, that drinking it while I was pregnant, that my children, my babies, my one-year-old child drinking it is not going to cause any adverse health effects, then I’m not gonna be satisfied,” Gates said. “And I will do whatever I can in this community to ensure that our drinking water is safe.”
Wagner will share his notes on the meeting with other media outlets. He will also be on WWAY NEWS at 6 p.m. to talk about what he saw and heard.