Residents of Wilmington, North Carolina want to know if the water they are drinking every day could possibly kill them.
Chemical conglomerate DuPont and its spinoff company Chemours’ manufacturing plants are located upstream from Wilmington – on a 2,100-acre property on the Cape Fear River in Fayeteville – where they produce GenX, a potentially cancer-causing chemical that is used to make Teflon.
A three-year study that was co-authored by North Carolina water utility Cape Fear Public Utility Authority calculated just how much GenX was present in Cape Fear’s waters. However, the study’s conclusions were never revealed to the public, even to Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, according to a report by CBS News‘ Jericka Duncan.
“We were alarmed. And we want to know how long that compound or that chemical had been dispersed into the Cape Fear River. And they told us since 1980. [This] needs to be looked at by Congress to make certain that we have safe drinking water in this country,” Mayor Saffo said.
DuPont had a history of manufacturing toxic chemicals. In 2005, DuPont paid the largest fine that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had received so far when it came to environmental violations – $16.5 million – for failing to report the dangerous effects to human health of a chemical called C8.
DuPont introduced GenX in 2009 to replace C8, which is used to make stain-resistant carpeting coatings and waterproof clothing, aside from Teflon. DuPont continued manufacturing GenXeven though a report from The Intercept which was published in 2016 exposed GenX as a potential carcinogen as well as an agent that could potentially lead to reproductive issues.
Promises and commitments
Chemours said it would take necessary steps to get rid of GenX wastewater emissions from its Fayeteville site.
The chemical company said that based on a report that the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released on Monday, June 12, there is very little presence of GenX in the waters of Cape River. It also claims that its Fayeteville plant had not impacted the state of the drinking water in the region. That being said, Chemours has said they are taking the necessary steps to avoid a repeat of the C8 situation.
However, a study that was published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters in 2016 revealed that the level of GenX in the drinking water of the Cape Fear Public Authorityhad an average of 631 parts per trillion (ppt). Study author Detley Knaffe said that the entire watershed – which provides drinking water for around 250,000 people – is very likely contaminated already.
A more recent report – done in 2017 – by a group of researchers in Sweden showed that GenX is even more harmful to human health than C8.
The EPA last year set the drinking water standard for C8 at 70 ppt in North Carolina. It has yet to do the same for the chemical GenX.