FAYETTEVILLE — Last week’s Environmental Protection Agency visit to the area was less than convincing to guests at the forum that the agency will yield desirable results.
The EPA was at the Crown Coliseum to hear from area residents about per- and polyflourinated substances, or PFAS. The purpose of the visit was to garner information the federal agency could use to determine what, if anything, it could or should do to protect citizens from the effects of chemicals like GenX, which is being produced by Chemours at the Fayetteville Works plant in Bladen County.
The majority of speakers lashed out at Chemours and local, regional and state leaders, but dozens even took aim at the federal agency with “protection” in its name, questioning its late seat at the table.
“It seems it was thrown together rather quickly to be a nice piece of press for the EPA,” said firefighter Dana Sergeant, who spoke at the forum. “Where was the conversation we need to have to see how the chemicals got into the environment in the first place?”
Discovery of GenX entering the Cape Fear River was first reported 14 months ago. Residents from Wilmington, where the Cape Fear supplies drinking water, believe it is a threat; how it affects humans has not been determined.
PFAS is the broad group of chemicals that include GenX, the compound produced by the DuPont subsidiary Chemours. Though GenX is an unregulated chemical, its most closely related compound has been shown to cause cancer in lab animals. The broad group PFAS has been linked to testicular cancer, liver problems and weakened immune systems in humans.
Wilmington resident Andy McGlinn is involved with an environmental group in New Hanover County and doesn’t believe the EPA has any intention of taking any action on the contamination of North Carolina air and drinking water with the perflourinated compound.
“With the current leadership they have, they won’t do anything,” he said. “The people at the top of the EPA have as their goal to dismantle the agency, so as long as they’re in charge, nothing will be done.”
The conservationist’s concerns have been voiced before. EPA Director Scott Pruitt took over the reins of the organization last February and has since come under sharp criticism, mainly from the left, for his industry-friendly approach to environmental issues.
The former Oklahoma attorney general who sued the EPA no less than 14 times maintains that job growth and business interests must be considered alongside environmental regulation. Subsequent cuts to the prosecution arm of the EPA have left detractors saying Washington has set its sights on dismantling the agency.
Pruitt has said publicly that though he intends to change up the agency from within, doing away with it completely is out of the picture.
The idea that the EPA would not take any definitive or impactful action regarding PFAS could have been the thought behind some of the hopelessness voiced at the forum.
“The state has been unable to push for reform,” said Wilmington resident Cordelia Norris. “Therefore, we are turning to the federal government. You are our last and final resource.”
State House Rep. Deb Butler even went so far as to call on the EPA to intervene in the “fascist state” in which North Carolina finds itself.
So why did hundreds of people show up, if they thought in advance nothing would be done?
“Events like this strengthen our resolve,” McGlinn said prior to embarking on the bus that would take his Wilmington group home. “Our voices are heard, and we’re more convinced than ever that we’re working for something right. The more we get the message out, the more likely it is that something will be done.”
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing email@example.com.