Governor Roy Cooper has directed the State Bureau of Investigation to look into possible criminal charges against Chemours, the chemical company behind the release of GenX into the Cape Fear River.
Cooper made the announcement in Wilmington earlier today as part of a six-part plan to deal with the GenX crisis.
“We have to make sure that we know how this happened with GenX and what we can do to make sure our water is protected in the future,” said Cooper.
Cooper’s other plans range from denying Chemours a permit to release GenX into the Cape Fear River to requesting that the EPA set standards for GenX.
GenX is a replacement for a hazardous chemical in Teflon. The EPA considers GenX an “emerging contaminant” – meaning it is so new that the agency does not yet have enough information to regulate it.
During the press conference, Cooper criticized the Republican-controlled General Assembly for dramatically cutting budgets at the Department of Environmental Quality over the past several years.
“I think this issue has brought to light the need for more state water inspectors, scientists, people who review permits for the DEQ,” he said.
Cooper said residents in and around Wilmington can continue to drink the water that comes from the Cape Fear River.
Cooper’s plan to deal with the GenX Crisis includes:
Having the SBI assess merits of a criminal investigation
Governor Cooper has directed the State Bureau of Investigation’s Diversion and Environmental Crimes Unit to assess whether a criminal investigation is warranted. The SBI will work with DEQ and the EPA to determine if there is evidence of criminal violations of the permit or the federal consent order that is in place.
Denying Chemours’ permit application
Cooper announced today that DEQ will deny Chemours’ permit request to release GenX. Chemours is in the process of applying for a new NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit, a federal permit program that controls water pollution and is managed by North Carolina DEQ.
Ordering a public health assessment
Cooper requested a public health assessment by the CDC to review any potential long-term health effects of GenX. The CDC has indicated that it will begin these studies.
Engaging the EPA
Cooper said he had “spoken directly” with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to request that the EPA move swiftly on completing a health assessment to help set regulatory standards. They also discussed the consent order that allowed Chemours to release GenX in the first place, and Cooper said the EPA is looking into whether that order needs to be updated and tightened.
Expanding the scope of the Science Advisory Board
Cooper is expanding the scope of the reconstituted Science Advisory Board to review the research on GenX and other potentially harmful compounds and assist the state in addressing water quality.
Enhancing disclosure and monitoring
DEQ will make changes to its permit application process that require companies to disclose more information about the unregulated pollutants they release.
Asking the General Assembly for resources
Cooper said he will push legislation with specific requests to the General Assembly for enhanced staffing to handle water safety.