Citizens from in and around Wilmington packed UNCW’s Kenan Auditorium Wednesday night to get answers from a panel of experts about the GenX water crisis.
The forum, organized by the StarNews and sponsored by WHQR and WWAY, featured local elected officials, researchers, and staffers from government agencies.
The chemical compound is in the Cape Fear River – although the company producing it, Chemours, has stopped discharging the by-product into southeastern North Carolina’s drinking water supply.
Three reporters – one from the StarNews, WWAY, and WHQR’s own Vince Winkel – posed questions to the panel.
The first question of the night asked why environmental authorities in Europe seem to act with much more rigor.
Joseph Wilde-Ramsing, a scientist with the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations, is based in the Netherlands. He said it’s partly due to funding and partly due to the recognition by regulatory agencies in Europe of certain basic principles.
"If you’re going to be putting something into a river and people are going to be drinking it, you should be telling them about that... Other things – like the precautionary principle – where you think of this idea of if you’re going to be putting something out there, you can’t use the lack of scientific certainty about its impacts to justify not doing anything or not telling people about it."
Until more questions are answered about GenX, however, the over-arching question for many people in the region: how to take matters into one's own hands and treat the water so that we know it’s safe to drink?
Detlef Knappe of NC State was part of the team that discovered the presence of GenX in the Cape Fear River.
"There are reverse osmosis-type home filters, under-the-sink-type filters, that, in my opinion, would remove GenX and the other ethers very well. And I’m saying that based on the removal of compounds that are structurally similar – similar in size, as well."
But in the end, said Knappe, GenX is only about half a percent of the total fluorochemical load in the river.