What aren’t we being told about GenX?

By: Tom Campbell - Contributing columnist

What could possibly be more important than knowing that the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink is safe? Public safety is one of the major functions of government.

That said, the GenX issue is a great mystery. For too many months there have been questions about whether the chemical released by a plant on the Cumberland-Bladen County border was harmful to those living along the Cape Fear River. GenX is a by-product contaminant resulting from the making of Teflon. Since it’s detection in drinking water, there have been lots of questions but few answers.

Is GenX harmful? At what levels and how is it harmful? What are the true measurable levels along the Cape Fear? Since we are told that the chemical is not eliminated by typical water treatments, what can be done to rid this chemical from drinking water supplies, how long will it take and what will be the costs involved?

Folks in the southeastern part of our state are understandably concerned. The former mayor of Wilmington has urged people in the Port City not to drink the water. Newspapers along the Cape Fear have run stories and editorials begging answers. Citizens are wondering why this doesn’t seem to be a priority among state officials.

Many in that region remember when officials at Camp LeJeune turned their heads to water quality issues for many years, until the evidence became inescapable and health problems were undeniable.

So here’s the mystery: Why isn’t our state conducting a full-court press to ascertain the safety of the citizens in this region? GenX may not be a concern but we need to know the facts.

For a while last week it appeared that help might soon be on the way. The state House passed legislation deputizing the Department of Environmental Quality to conduct a comprehensive study on GenX and approved $2.3 million to fund the study. This action was unanimous, something rare today. Republicans and Democrats acknowledged that we need answers to the swirling questions. Incidentally, $1 million of that money was to come from a previously approved but unspent appropriation. In a $23 billion state budget, the amount is negligible.

The response from our state Senate was strange, if not mysterious. That body chose to adjourn rather than even discuss the bill. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger went a step further, saying, “Senate Republicans have already shown we are serious about finding real solutions that will actually improve water quality in the Cape Fear River and hold violators accountable for dumping GenX into the region’s water supply,” adding his chamber would not likely discuss GenX again until the short session that convenes in May.

Why couldn’t the Senate hang around another hour or so to consider the House measure? What could possibly be more important than easing the minds of people in an entire section of the state? Surely there is something going on that we aren’t being told. What is it?

The only conclusion we can come to is politics. We’ve got a Democratic governor, the current and former mayors of Wilmington and the current mayor of Fayetteville are all Democrats. We genuinely hope this isn’t more partisan political gamesmanship. That would make the GenX issue even more toxic.

Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly statewide television discussion of NC. Contact him at www.ncspin.com.

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Tom Campbell

Contributing columnist