CFPUA may have known about GenX more than year before news broke


WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority may have known about the presence of a chemical compound called GenX in the drinking water system more than a year before a newspaper story made the issue public.

In an emailed statement this afternoon, CFPUA Chair Mike Brown said the authority’s staff received the initial findings from the NC State research team leading the original study on May 3, 2016. Brown said a final draft of the study was shared with CFPUA on September 25, 2016. That’s nearly two months before the study was published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters on Nov. 10, 2016.

Earlier this week, WWAY asked CFPUA Executive Director Jim Flechtner when the authority knew about GenX in the water.

“Well there was a long process,” Flechtner said with Brown also sitting in the room. “We partnered with North Carolina State University to study the river, understand what’s in it, and report that information to agencies, so the study had been going on for several months, and we got the final result in November.”

WWAY reached out to Flechtner about the discrepancy.

“I do not believe there is any conflicting information,” he wrote. “A point of clarification: I noted in my public statement Tuesday that we received the final results of the study in November. Those were the final results published to the public on November 10. CFPUA staff received initial study updates on May 3, 2016. It is unclear as to what those initial study updates included at this point. As you know Mike Brown is asking the Board to conduct an internal review. This is one of the items that will be under review”

Brown responded to an e-mail asking if his statement meant CFPUA knew of the presence of GenX in the water supply in May 2016.

“CFPUA staff received the initial findings from the NC State research team leading the original study on May 3, 2016. At that point, it is my understanding that the study was still underway. The reason for the review is to establish a full and credible accounting of all of the information that was available at each step of the process,” Brown wrote in reply.

WWAY e-mailed him back asking if the initial findings from May 3, 2016, included that there may be GenX in the drinking water.

“This is one of the items under review. It is important to keep in mind that we have not received any guidance from our regulators that would suggest that GenX poses a public health concern,” Brown wrote back. “My objective is to gather all of the information, and share it with the public to clear up any confusion. We will be absolutely sure to update you at the conclusion of the internal review.”

Yesterday Brown refused to answer reporters when they asked why other members of the CFPUA Board had not learned about the GenX issue until after the StarNews story.

Brown’s statement today said that at no point has the utility “received any guidance from any regulatory body that we should test for GenX, nor have we received any guidance on effective ways to remove GenX from the water supply. That said, I stand with our colleagues at the state and local levels, and call on Chemours to stop releasing GenX into the Cape Fear River at any level.”

Brown also wrote that he is “going to ask the Board to conduct a review regarding CFPUA’s involvement in and communication about the North Carolina State University’s study.”

In a statement to WWAY, the EPA said only, “EPA is working to gather more information on this matter and will review and determine next steps.”

Below is Brown’s full statement:

The role of the CFPUA is to provide drinking water that meets or exceeds all state and federal standards so that our drinking water is safe. As a result, we regularly participate in scientific studies of this kind. From the moment we agreed to participate in the NCSU study up until today we have not received any guidance from any regulatory body that we should test for GenX, nor have we received any guidance on effective ways to remove GenX from the water supply. That said, I stand with our colleagues at the state and local levels, and call on Chemours to stop releasing GenX into the Cape Fear River at any level.

As a member of the Wilmington community, I wholeheartedly agree that we, as the CFPUA Board, are obligated to provide transparency in all aspects of this organization, and that the Board of Directors is obligated to fulfill its duty to provide oversight and communicate openly with the public. Therefore, I am going to ask the Board to conduct a review regarding CFPUA’s involvement in and communication about the North Carolina State University’s study.

We are well aware of the public concern regarding the study and the steps CFPUA followed regarding the discovery of GenX in the Cape Fear River. I will recommend that the review will be led by Jennifer Adams, a chemical engineer and member of the Board. At the conclusion of this review, the Board of Directors will share its findings with the public.

In the interim, the following is an account of events known to me at this time.

CFPUA staff received the initial findings from the NC State research team leading the original study on May 3, 2016. The study progressed, and a final draft was shared with CFPUA staff on September 25, 2016, shortly before the study was published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters on November 10, 2016. The study revealed traces of GenX in the Cape Fear River.

The EPA—also an active participant in the NCSU study—through their approvals, allows 1% of the manufacturing waste stream of GenX to be discharged into the river. Because of this, it was not surprising that the study confirmed traces in the water.

Upon confirmation of GenX in the Cape Fear River at the conclusion of this study, CFPUA staff implemented the same due diligence process it uses to study and review all scientific reports and emerging compounds. GenX is one of thousands of unregulated, permitted compounds, and CFPUA willingly participates in studies of these types of compounds on a regular basis.

CFPUA staff worked with the researchers to understand this unregulated, permitted compound, the results of the study, and what they might mean. Based on the information they gathered during this due diligence process, staff determined that additional research was needed to understand the real effects of GenX and potential water treatment options. Staff took their initial learnings and request for additional research to Executive Director Flechtner on March 20, 2017. Staff members continued in their due diligence process from there.

As part of this due diligence process, Dr. Knappe’s team came to present to the CFPUA water quality team meeting to present on the study on April 19, 2017, which NCDEQ representatives attended.

Following this initial due diligence phase, staff notified the full board via email on June 5, 2017, and Mr. Flechtner secured permission from the Executive Committee of the Board on June 7, 2017 to send a formal request to NC Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) requesting additional research and regulations for this unregulated, permitted compound. Following Executive Committee approval, Mr. Flechtner submitted the letter via email on June 7, 2017. NCDEQ had been involved in this matter beginning as early as April 19, 2017 and at no time during the discussion with NCDEQ or EPA did they indicate that this confirmed presence of GenX posed a health risk or a public advisory was necessary.

CFPUA received a response from NCDEQ on June 9. As noted in their correspondence, the NCDEQ formally requested guidance from the EPA, “the sole agency responsible for establishing drinking water standards nationwide. The federal agency has extensive resources necessary to determine the nature, extent and potential impacts of chemicals such as GenX. As such, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality is awaiting guidance from the EPA that will provide [NCDEQ] with the information needed to begin developing regulatory limits for GenX.

The Board of Directors can guarantee to the public that CFPUA strictly adheres to all regulations, and can assure its drinking water meets or exceeds all federal and state regulations for safety.

The CFPUA Board of Directors has a responsibility to protect our customers to include full and complete transparency on all aspects of our organization. That’s why we are taking proactive steps to review this process. We have a lot of questions, as do our customers. We continue to seek answers, and will deliver updates as quickly as possible.

The board of directors of CFPUA understands that this is a time sensitive matter given public interest. We are committed to being complete, thorough and are committed to releasing results of the review on a timely basis. CFPUA will post updates on its website and social channels. At the conclusion of the Board of Director’s independent review of this process, the Board will update the public on its findings.

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