- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 15, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Not satisfied with the answers Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration gave to their questions about a chemical plant’s releases into a river, North Carolina Senate Republicans announced Tuesday they’re planning to soon hold a public hearing on the matter.

Cooper’s health and environmental quality department secretaries are seeking $2.6 million from legislators to address The Chemours Co.’s discharges of chemical GenX into the Cape Fear River, as well as to expand water quality and safety programs statewide. The chemical company recently stopped the discharges from its Bladen County operations, and testing shows concentrations of GenX in the river have declined dramatically, state officials have said.

Responding to several senators’ demands for more information, health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen and environmental quality Secretary Michael Regan wrote in a letter Monday that the funds would directly help protect water quality in the state and cover water testing for GenX and other compounds.

But the Republicans said their letter didn’t address what the senators consider inconsistencies in how the discharge has been handled.

Gov. Cooper needs to work together with the legislature to get the honest answers to these questions that our constituents and the public expect,” said Sen. Michael Lee from Wilmington, which relies on the Cape Fear River for drinking water. “In the coming days, we intend to exercise our legislative oversight responsibilities to move this process along.” The legislature reconvenes later this month.

Cohen and Regan wrote that at least 70 positions in water quality have been eliminated since 2013, resulting in backlogs in wastewater permits. More scientists with water quality expertise are needed to help state and local communities, they wrote.

“We are ready to engage in a productive dialogue about these topics and are available to meet in person to share more information with you about our request for expedited funding and personnel,” the secretaries’ letter says. “We are glad you are reviewing the effect of legislative budget cuts, both past and current.”

There are no federal health standards for GenX, which is used to make Teflon and other non-stick products. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as an “emerging contaminant” to be studied.

Cooper said last month he would ask the State Bureau of Investigation to determine whether the plant violated any permits with the discharges. The Department of Environmental Quality also recently received a federal subpoena from U.S. attorneys seeking records about the little-studied chemical.


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