The summer of GenX

Samantha Durham, Opinion Editor

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I am sure by now that almost everyone in the Wilmington area has heard about the latest water issue; GenX. This summer has been all about GenX and what it can do to not only the community but also to a person’s health. I have lived in Wilmington my whole life and according to local news stations, I have been drinking this stuff for years. I, along with other locals, want to know what consequences are heading my way in regards to my health but also the local environment.

According to CBS News, roughly 600,000 Wilmington residents receive their drinking water from the Cape Fear River, which has now found to be tainted with the chemical GenX. But, where is the chemical coming from and how did it end up in the Cape Fear River? CBS News reported that DuPont and a spinoff company, Chemours own a chemical manufacturing plant up the river, located on a 2,100 acre property in Fayetteville, North Carolina. GenX is produced by this plant and Wilmington natives are demanding to know if this potentially cancer causing chemical is making it into the community’s water supply.

But, the part that really gets me is that this has been an issue way before now. According to CBS News, “The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority co-authored a three-year study on the chemical’s elevated presence in the water”.  While public officials obviously knew about this for three whole years, the public did not; Mayor Bill Saffo wasn’t even included reported CBS News.

Mayor Saffo met with officials from Chemours who stated that the chemical has been dispersed into the river since 1980, reported CBS News. As to be expected, the Wilmington community is in utter outrage over this news and is demanding that Chemours be held responsible for this potentially pathogenic chemical. Council and town hall meetings have been packed to the brim with enraged locals and I can’t blame them for a second.

The effects of GenX on humans is uncertain however, the report sent to the EPA by DuPont between 2006 and 2013 states that the chemical causes tumors and reproductive issues in lab animals, reported CBS News. There is no telling what long term consumption of this chemical could do to humans who have been unknowingly ingesting it for years. CBS News stated that GenX is the safer alternative to another chemical produced by DuPont called C8, but is no longer produced by the company.

DuPont, however has a nasty history with the EPA. DuPont had to pay a $16.5 million dollar fine due to failing to report C8’s risk to human health, one of the largest EPA fines in history, reported CBS News. Last February, DuPont and Chemours shelled out over $670 million to settle a class-action lawsuit regarding C8 contamination in the Ohio River Valley as well.

WECT reported that the GenX levels in the community drinking water are below the state’s public health goal after the water was tested for five weeks. Chemours has also been prompted to stop releasing the chemical into the Cape Fear River. Sampling will continue for an unknown period of time but Michael Regan, the secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality vows to share testing results with the public in a “timely fashion”, reported WECT.

This is a pretty big deal even if it ends up being a harmless chemical. For me, it is the principle that this company was dumping GenX into the river without informing the community it would impact. I think that DuPont and Chemours should be held one hundred percent accountable for the issue. We shouldn’t be finding out that we have been drinking a potentially dangerous chemical since the 1980s in 2017. The companies should have definitely come forward way before then.

Not  to mention that this issue goes beyond just human safety and health; think about what this might be doing to the wildlife and environment around Wilmington. This community is home to a variety of animals and there is no telling what GenX might be doing to them. The EPA report even stated that GenX was linked to tumors and reproductive issues in lab animals. That could be a big threat to the ecosystems that exist in this area. Ecosystems are fragile and one change can cause bigger problems down the road.

The residents of Wilmington are right to be concerned. It brings me no comfort that officials are unsure if GenX causes health issues in humans. It might not, but that is not a certainty. There is no telling what this could mean going forward when it comes to community water safety. However, I am impressed by the community and how we have all come together to protect not only ourselves, but the area we live in. Wilmington is a great place to live and it is a shame that it might be harmed by GenX. Hopefully, local officials will remain on top of the issue and not let more incidents like this go unnoticed.