DuPont &Tainted Water Allegations In Wilmington

The reports of the tainted water supply from a chemical plant in Wilmington, North Carolina are both alarming and shocking in nature. The Cape Fear water supply is infected with large levels of a chemical agent called GenX.

This chemical has been linked to numerous health conditions which have been exhibited in residents living in that area which utilize the Cape Fear water supply. The incidents have been staggering, and the report from CBS News states that evidence exists that could indicate that the chemical has been present in the water supply for decades.

The chemical plant is operated by Chemours, which is a spinoff company of the agricultural chemical giant, DuPont. The company formed and split off Chemours as part of the steps taken for regulatory approval of DuPont to merge with another goliath in the industry, Dow Chemical.

This particular chemical, GenX, is a replacement component used in the process of making Teflon. It is has been linked to potential cancer causing effects and is present in the drinking water supply of Cape Fear River which serves tens of thousands of people. The substance has been in the water supply for 37 years because there is no standard for measuring or testing for that chemical.

GenX is a processing aide and replaced a substance called P.F.O.A. which had a long history of safety issues itself. The process of making Teflon received largely unnoticed media coverage as the company moved forward with production utilizing GenX in the formulation.

DuPont insisted to the public that the substitute was safe, yet had issued over fifteen documents behind closed doors that cited concerns over health and safety of the chemical. The “to make matters worse” segment of this article is that Chemours, according to local news reports, will not commit to stopping the release of further GenX into the river.

The municipal government response is almost tragic in that they will not state that GenX is safe to consume but they will not state that it is unsafe either. The recent fallout legally from the horrendous water crisis in Flint should give these local officials pause when dealing with these issues. The official response from the municipal level is that they are deferring to the county for further direction.

The local area residents, most of them at least, are understandably very upset. The fact that toxic material has been in the water for decades and undisclosed is yet another example of corporate distrust in the American public perception. The reports I saw referenced some other area residents with the opinion that the river is contaminated from all sorts of chemicals and that should be common knowledge for a local person.

The news will have little to no impact on the proposed merger between Dow and DuPont because Chemours was spun off and is technically a separate entity at this point from DuPont. The DuPont merger with Dow would initially create one huge company that then will be split in legal terms into five smaller companies, or units.

It may not damage the chances for the merger to be approved, but this situation in North Carolina still connects DuPont to a tainted water supply, which is damaging in the court of public opinion. That can be a force that should not be underestimated.

The recent developments out of Flint, Michigan which were referred to earlier in this piece also could play a role in the way that the situation in North Carolina gets handled from both a government and a media coverage standpoint. The disaster in Flint has gripped the nation and the consensus opinion drawn from that tragedy of contaminated water and government cover-ups is: this can never happen again. The situation with Chemours and the Cape Fear River can get some significant backlash because of the timing of the whole situation.

The direction of the situation could evolve into a similar one to Flint, where an investigation into who knew about the effects of GenX and when did they know become significant findings. It could also become a scenario that proves difficult to build a case because so many people can claim ignorance on the effects of the chemical.

This tragic situation is evolving and will continue to do so in the coming weeks and months ahead. In the meantime, there will be more questions raised than there are answers available. The lives of residents and the quality of life of families from all backgrounds and demographics will hang in the balance. This will all come together around another American corporation trying to defend itself from what it knew a long time ago: that putting these chemicals into the river would have consequences.

It is inconceivable that we could have another situation like Flint in our future, but it appears that at the very least this Cape Fear River debacle is on the surface a very significant public health threat, and what lies beneath that surface is what we are all bracing for in the near future.

Follow Up: Flint Water Crisis – Officials Criminally Charged & The Fallout Ahead

In a follow up to previous articles on this tragedy, the Flint, Michigan water crisis is back in the mainstream news cycle. A total of five government employees have been charged with manslaughter including the head of the Michigan health department.

These charges stem from their role in the water crisis where lead contaminants left residents deathly ill. The residents got sick from Legionnaires disease, which is a respiratory condition and type of pneumonia that is caused by a few factors, but was connected to the lead contamination of the water supply in Flint.

The news media was speculating about who may be charged next in this investigation into one of the worst public health disasters in American history and whether those charges would reach the Governor of Michigan. It is not known how much the Governor knew, or when he was informed of certain developments surrounding the crisis with the water supply in that beleaguered city.

The water crisis in Flint represented a calamity on so many levels between the negligence being alleged, the lack of adequate training for local city water officials, and then the steps taken when the problems with the contamination were verified. The result is a massive problem with the water supply of an entire city and reports of illness across the demographics from the elderly, to women, teenagers, children, and babies.

It is a very public example of failure of public governance in the area of public health and safety. That is the key message behind the charges handed down to the five public officials accused of these serious offenses. The fact that the water from the Flint River supply source was not treated properly caused lead to be emitted from the older pipes in the system. The damage is costly with estimates running at around anywhere from $55 to $95 million to replace all of the pipes which provide drinking water to residents and other structures in Flint.

Most of that money is going to come from lawsuits filed by the residents against the EPA primarily and the state has pledged to replace the water lines that connect to the main distribution and pipe systems for 18,000 homes by 2020.

That is all well and good but the question remains: what will residents do in the interim? The water crisis has decimated an already depressed market for real estate in Flint. In essence, nobody wants to move there and the residents cannot sell their homes to relocate elsewhere. It is a total mess, with the fallout so far – reaching it is hard to fathom.

There have been accounts of government officials concealing evidence regarding the toxicity levels of the water, which is greatly concerning for obvious reasons. The entire situation has both frustrated and saddened Americans across the country as well as triggered the investigation into lead levels in other cities and counties.

The situation in Flint is tragic and heartbreaking and is unique to other public health issues that came before it for a variety of reasons. First, it was widespread and encompassed an entire American city which is rare for a public health issue which are usually confined to a specific area or neighborhood.

Second, it was so intricately covered up for years by different levels of government from the local, county, and state level as well as involving the EPA. The levels of lead and other toxins in the Flint River have now been well documented. The situation with that water supply was so bad that General Motors stopped using that water supply for their factory in Flint.

The final main component of this whole disastrous situation, at least in the scope of the general public, is that the damage is already done. The water supply has made many people sick with some unable to work, children have been so ill they have dropped out of school, and some people died in relation to the contaminated water supply.

The city and state level of government can issue all the statements they want about how the water supply has been changed back to the Detroit water supply which Flint used for decades before the cost-cutting switch to the local supply took place. The damage has already been done, just because the supply has changed, the pipes are still leaching chemicals and lead so they must be replaced.

The people who are sick and who have sick children or sick parents from tainted water cannot be cured by a switch in water supply or by issuing statements about correcting the problem three years from now. They are sick, that damage has been done, and there is no going back.

Some within the media have dubbed the situation in Flint as the “crisis with no end in sight” because of the sheer scope of the problems caused by the tainted water and the brazen way that the government tried to prevent the people from knowing about the problems which existed.

The attorney general for the State of Michigan has vowed that he is not done with the investigation they are conducting into this disaster. He stated after these first four arrests were announced that they will have more charges handed down to others involved in the coming months.

The federal government has taken no responsibility for helping the effort to be resolved, and some feel that they should provide some type of funding more than the band-aid funds sent about a year ago.

The “crisis with no end in sight” will continue on in a variety of levels in Flint between the government, the public health implications, and the restoration effort for their water supply pipe system. The investigation into this horrible tragedy has a long way to go before it is concluded. In the interim, thousands of American families have had their lives altered in terrible ways and also see no end in sight.

Left Untreated: Flint Michigan Water Crisis – Follow Up

In a follow up to an earlier story on this terrible tragedy in Flint, Michigan where the water supply has been unsafe and slowly making the residents there very sick; some new information emerged today. It was originally reported in the Detroit Free Press and AP who have both done some insightful reporting on this shocking story.

The mystery behind why the water from the Flint River was allowed to flow freely without being properly treated stems from two issues: a mistake by a state level official and an equipment upgrade to the city water treatment facility that Flint could not afford. Those two issues combined to cause a horrible disaster where for 14 months contaminated water entered every house, school, business, and park in Flint.

First, the mistake by the state level official, Mike Prysby, from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was asked by the plant supervisor of the Flint water treatment facility about the addition of phosphate to the water, which is an anti-corrosive to prevent the leaching of lead into the water supply. The response from Prysby, according to AP, was that phosphorous did not have to be added for an entire year, which was a completely incorrect answer with horrendous consequences.

Second, there are other media reports out of Michigan that explain that the Flint water treatment plant needed upgraded equipment in order to properly add the amount of phosphate and other anti-corrosive additives in the correct amounts to deal with that large a water supply. The reason why the plant upgrades were not done was because Flint was broke and was already operating with a city manager that was making budget cuts on a widespread level.

The city eventually formally submitted a grant for the money, about $8 million, for water plant facility upgrades, but this was several months after the change in the supply was made to the local water supply instead of from the Detroit water supply chain. The damage was essentially already done.

Damage Control

The current situation there calls for a complete removal and replacement of all the pipes in the City of Flint, which they have petitioned to Congress for that funding. This entire tragedy, the backdrop to it being a combination of human error, negligence, and potentially being dishonest with the public about how widespread the financial issues facing Flint were begs the question: How can we fix this terrible situation? How can we prevent it from happening again, if it has not already occurred? What changes need to be made to the model of how the typical American city is managed?

I do not know the answers to these questions, but maybe someone in the audience does have some feedback or ideas in this regard. I am still researching and trying to determine how this damage can be reversed, how it can be controlled, but I know that some of it cannot be reversed. The damage to children and other more susceptible residential populations with regard to lead poisoning has already been done.

No Guidelines

The news on Flint also comes amid reports of potentially similar water contamination problems in many other American cities, towns, and communities. The EPA came under fire last week regarding the lack of commitment to any type of new guidelines regarding the levels of lead in the water supply. The agency made some indications about a year ago that it was readying a protocol for lead in municipal water systems. The EPA has come under intense scrutiny for the fact that in the wake of the events in Flint, they are still not coming forward with any type of guidance regarding this horrendous public health problem.

The agency has stated that they are still investigating and evaluating certain methods to determine the correct lead contamination protocols and testing procedures. The EPA has taken the position that they do not want to rush to judgement on the issue.

Conversely, there is a growing public sentiment that believe that the EPA needs to release some guidelines for the handling of lead in the water supply because it poses such a significant public safety risk. The situation, unfortunately, is very political and it should not be.

The news revealed this week that the tragedy with lead poisoning in the water supply in Flint could have been averted will only stand to make the residents there and in other parts of America increasingly angry and distressed. It will do nothing but add salt to the wounds of the parents with sick children in that Michigan city.

My original article posed the question: how could this happen? This story reveals the answer. It is proof of the consequences of actions when things are left untreated, in this case literally. Many questions still remain including: what happens next? How can it be fixed? I do not have those answers sadly, and I am deeply upset that I even have to ask them in the first place.