Stand up and demand safe water

Four decades of progress in cleaning up the nation’s waters is at risk if the EPA is allowed to remove waters from protection. (© Getty Images)

Today, Derb Carter, SELC's Chapel Hill Office Director, reminds Cape Fear River residents, as well as every other American resident, that the quality and safety in their drinking water is at risk due to new leadership at the EPA. 

The EPA is proposing to repeal the federal Clean Water Rule, which clarifies what waters are protected from pollution.  Specifically, with the presence of the manufactured chemical GenX in the lower Cape Fear River, it is allowed to discharge under its expired permit until the state of North Carolina takes action to obtain a new permit.

Below is an excerpt of the piece. Read the full guest column here.

The presence of the manufactured chemical GenX in the lower Cape Fear River has raised concerns about what every American should be able to take for granted: the quality and safety of their drinking water. Chemours is currently discharging its wastewater and pollutants into the river under an expired permit. Since it applied for a renewal of its permit, it is allowed to discharge under its expired permit until the state takes action on a new permit.

A new permit should prohibit the discharge of GenX and related chemicals -- holding Chemours to its announced commitment to remove wastewater containing GenX from its discharge. And the permit must require adequate monitoring and reporting to ensure this limitation will be enforced, either by the state or by citizens if the state fails to enforce.

A new permit that prohibits discharge of GenX should halt the addition of GenX to the river, with civil and potentially criminal penalties for violation of the permit. This is the important first step.

The second step is to quantify and address the legacy pollution from GenX and its predecessor chemical PFOA or C8, the documented carcinogen GenX replaced.

One of the biggest problems with these chemicals is their long persistence in the environment and the ineffectiveness of traditional water quality treatment systems in removing them from drinking water. Ongoing assessments of the presence of GenX and PFOA in the river should continue, and result in a plan to address identified concerns.

While Chemours’ decision to remove GenX from its discharge is welcome news, the announcement by EPA last week that it plans to repeal the federal Clean Water Rule is not. The Clean Water Rule clarifies what waters are protected from pollution.

New leadership at the EPA is proposing to eliminate many small streams and perhaps most wetlands from the requirement to obtain a permit prior to discharging pollutants. Four decades of progress in cleaning up the nation’s waters is at risk if the EPA is allowed to remove waters from protection. Whether it is GenX or any other pollutant, the only effective way to prevent pollution is at its source.

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