RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina should tackle an emerging problem of water and air pollution from little-studied industrial chemicals by beefing up the state’s health and environmental agencies, Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday.
Cooper proposed spending $14.5 million to help improve the ability of the Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Health and Human Services to protect the water and environment.
Legislators have resisted increasing agency budgets for the past year despite rising concern over the presence of little-studied industrial chemicals in water supplies. Lawmakers failed in February to agree on an extra $2.3 million for the environmental agency.
State regulators said in new court documents this week that the operators of a chemical plant near Fayetteville have lied for years about discharging compounds that have gotten into drinking water supplies as much as 100 miles (160 kilometers) away in Wilmington.
Spokesmen for Wilmington, Delaware-based Chemours Company did not respond Tuesday to a request to comment.
A months-long investigation by DEQ found Chemours contaminated the state’s air, surface water, and groundwater through its release of the chemical nicknamed GenX, attorneys for the environmental agency said in an updated lawsuit filed Monday. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state health agency have recognized GenX “may present an unreasonable risk of injury to human health and the environment,” the court filing said.
The agency said that Chemours and its predecessor DuPont have lied about discharging GenX for decades into the Cape Fear River. DuPont spun off Chemours in 2015.
“Despite knowledge of health risks associated with GenX, Chemours failed to disclose the presence of GenX in its process wastewater, and even made statements that misled DEQ as to the presence of GenX,” the environmental agency said in the lawsuit. The suit was filed last fall in Bladen County, where the plant is located.
The agency said it continues to detect concentrations of GenX in the water being discharged by the Fayetteville-area factory that employs about 900 workers. The chemical “has also caused significant and widespread groundwater contamination,” and falls to the ground in rainwater miles away from the plant “at levels that far exceed emission rates previously reported to DEQ,” the court filing said.
GenX has been used since 2009. It replaced perfluorooctanoic acid — or PFOA — a chemical that was shown to stay in the body longer and which was blamed for increased cancer risks. Both compounds were used in making non-stick Teflon and other materials.
Studies point to GenX and related chemicals as having toxic effects in animals, but its effects in humans aren’t known. There are no federal health standards for GenX and the U. classifies it as an “emerging contaminant” to be studied.