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GenX: Where are we now?

Gen X: Where are we now?
As is the unfortunate trend in politics, crises often receive major press coverage only to recede from the public consciousness before the root problem is solved. The GenX crisis in NC is a perfect example. Since major news coverage lapsed over the course of 2018, the problem still persists. This timeline published by DEQ highlights some of the recent environmental developments in the wake of this calamity. Essentially, GenX was discovered in the Cape Fear River in June 2017 after being discharged for years undetected from a plant located in Fayetteville operated by the company Chemours. DEQ fined Chemours and issued violations for the pollution. Gov. Cooper vetoed a bill the legislature passed because it did not provide enough funding and simultaneously loosened other environmental regulations. In October 2017, Chemours had yet another GenX spill and did not report it to authorities. In 2018, the Republican budget granted all of Chemours’ lobbyists requests by not taking punitive measures towards Chemours and instead restricting the governor’s power to shut down facilities that are polluting water. Other than the issued violations and ineffective legislation, not much concrete action has been taken since the initial spill.

Why is GenX even a problem?
It has been classified as an “emerging contaminant” by the EPA. A report published by the agency states that preliminary research of GenX shows it can affect internal organs and possibly cause cancer. Not much is known for certain, but clearly GenX is not something we want in our water supply.

Effect of the government shutdown
The government shutdown from December 2018 to January 2019 exacerbated the GenX crisis. Because the EPA was shut down, they could not test water samples taken from the Cape Fear River. Supposedly, the chemicals are no longer being released into the water supply, but testing is required to confirm this. Even though chemicals are supposedly no longer being released, they are still present in the surrounding environment and some traces have been found up to 100 miles away from the initial site. A group of researchers from universities across the state have teamed up to further test the water for any potentially harmful chemicals and establish long-term documentation.

Actions of the EPA
In February 2019, the EPA issued a letter reprimanding Chemours for breaking federal law by not informing the EPA that they were manufacturing new compounds. However, the EPA has not been very vigilant when it comes to regulating GenX and other unknown compounds. The EPA released their “PFAS Action Plan” report last week, which did not establish any new regulations or standards. Gov. Cooper criticized this report, calling it “weak” and expressing his frustration that the report did not include any further research or regulation for GenX.

Chemours ships their pollution from other plants to Fayetteville
in January 2019, Lisa Sorg of NC Policy Watch broke the story that Chemours was importing pollution from their plant in the Netherlands to Fayetteville to be “recycled.” Chemours admitted that this has been going on for several years. Sorg reported on a letter from the EPA addressed to Chemours asking for more details about this pollution exchange. There is a possibility that the pollution was being imported to the US to evade stricter European laws on GenX and related compounds. More details have yet to emerge as this story is still developing.

Some steps have been taken to address this crisis since the uptick in coverage in 2017 and 2018, but there is still much progress to be made. We cannot wait until it is too late to protect our state from these potential catastrophic health and environmental effects.