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North Carolina Politicians, Scientists Flummoxed by Cape Fear River Contamination Crisis

North Carolina Senate President Phil Berger (R) wants an override of Gov. Roy Cooper’s (D) Sept. 21 veto of legislation that would have provided $435,000 to clean up GenX chemical contamination in the Cape Fear River.

Berger said Cooper wants to do nothing more than grow “a bureaucracy that has thus far failed to resolve this crisis.”

GenX is a type of a fluorochemical that is a byproduct of the production of Teflon and other materials like fast-food wrappers and microwave popcorn bags. It is an “emerging contaminant,” created in 2009. So far, the EPA has not set up protocols to regulate it.

North Carolina environmental officials told WRAL that DuPont and its spinoff company, Chemours — as part of factory operations in Bladen County, N.C. — had been dumping GenX into the Cape Fear River for nearly 40 years.

North Carolina health and environmental officials began monitoring GenX in the Cape Fear River, a 202-mile-long blackwater river that flows into the Atlantic Ocean through Wilmington, N.C.

Gov. Cooper said in July that North Carolina environmental regulators had blocked a permit for the company to resume GenX discharges into the river.

But North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (R), following Cooper’s veto of Cape Fear River cleanup money, blamed “the GenX crisis” on a “failure of state agencies — spanning multiple, bipartisan administrations back to the 1980s — to properly regulate clean water resources for North Carolina.”

Cooper didn’t dispute the pollution — that spilled out of a chemical plant where Teflon was manufactured — had resulted in a health crisis. Nor did he argue with the contention that the state’s environmental bureaucracy had failed to deal with GenX. In fact, he wanted North Carolina lawmakers to appropriate $2.5 million to clean up the river.

“The legislation passed by the General Assembly, House Bill 56, provides no resources to the state agencies charged with protecting drinking water and preventing illegal chemicals from being discharged into our rivers,” Cooper said in his veto statement. “It gives the impression of action while allowing the long-term problem to fester.”

“When it comes to drinking water, there is no room for political posturing or hollow solutions,” Cooper added.

Amen, said Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo. He said it was time for the legislature and Gov. Cooper to stop rattling their political sabers and come up with a solution.

"Get us some resources down here to monitor the water quality of the drinking water,” Saffo told WECT. “I think the citizens at the end of the day don't care who does it, where the money comes from, but let's just get it done.”

But cleaning up the Cape Fear River involves more than getting Democrats and Republicans to put aside their partisan squabbles.