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.