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Wilmington leaders advocate for PFAS testing, highway infrastructure in Washington, D.C.

The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge will need replacement in a few years, and the City of Wilmington said they hope to avoid using a toll to raise funds.

City of Wilmington leaders are in the capital this week advocating for transportation infrastructure, research into PFAS health impacts, and resources for addressing the opioid crisis.

Mayor Bill Saffo said on the transportation side, addressing flooding on Highways 40 and 95 is a top priority.

He used Hurricane Florence as an example of when flooding on those highways cut off access to Wilmington.

“It's the major artery into southeastern North Carolina and a lot of resources and help come in through that highway; to be blocked off from the world for four days is just unacceptable,” he said.

Some resources for flooding solutions could come through federal grants, Saffo said.

He said the city is also looking at grants to help replace Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. The bridge’s lifespan is running short, and past proposals have included the unpopular option of privatization, which would have used a toll to fund the replacement of the bridge.

Saffo said the city hopes to avoid the toll option by working with the state and the U.S. Department of Transportation to look for federal grants that would match funding for replacing the bridge. Those grants could fall under the recent federal infrastructure bill, he said.

“Holding polluters accountable”

The EPA recently passed the ‘first-ever national standard’ for PFAS regulations on six chemicals, including GenX. The regulations will have to be met by water utilities–meaning the cost will fall on ratepayers.

Saffo said city leaders are now trying to address the issue of smaller communities in the Cape Fear region whose water utilities can’t afford to install PFAS filters.

He also said the city is advocating for resources to test PFAS’s effects on the human body. The litigation between Cape Fear Public Utility Authority and Chemours over the cost of the filters is still ongoing as well.

Opioid crisis

Saffo said fentanyl is a frequent topic of discussion in Washington. A major concern is fake prescription pills — six in ten of which are laced with fentanyl, he said.

The city is asking for more resources to address the crisis and to supplement mental health services, such as more mental health workers in schools.

Saffo said city leaders will bring these concerns to members of the Drug Enforcement Agency on Tuesday.

Grace is a multimedia journalist recently graduated from American University. She's attracted to issues of inequity and her reporting has spanned racial disparities in healthcare, immigration detention and college culture. In the past, she's investigated ICE detainee deaths at the Investigative Reporting Workshop, worked on an award-winning investigative podcast, and produced student-led video stories.