Friday, September 30, 2022

NCDEQ tells CFPUA it’s ‘looking into’ Chemours sediment spill

The Cape Fear River near Lock and Dam No. 1 in Riegelwood, where CFPUA gets much of the region’s drinking water. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

WILMINGTON — State regulators told the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority that it is ‘looking into’ Chemours’ reported sediment spill at the Fayetteville Works plant, although this may not assuage local concerns given the state’s historical difficulty in taking meaningful action against industrial polluters.

The move comes after Chemours notified CFPUA earlier this week that court-ordered PFAS reduction work had apparently caused an increase amount of sediment to be dumped into the river. CFPUA immediately began sampling and reached out to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) for additional guidance.

According to CFPUA, an NCDEQ official notified the utility to say “staff had visited Chemours’ chemical manufacturing site on Thursday morning and that the river ‘looked normal.'” NCDEQ staff then reported took samples at both at the Chemours plant and downriver at Lock & Dam No. 3. Analysis of those samples will be forthcoming, according to DEQ.

Chemours provided results of its own preliminary PFAS testing results to CFPUA, based on samples taken roughly seven miles downriver from the Fayetteville Works site. These results were “inconclusive” according to Chemours, which stated that there was “no detection of HFPO Dimer Acid [GenX].”

At face value, it is initially difficult to square Chemours’ findings with CFPUA’s own raw water testing, which it has conducted and published since 2017, finding GenX in every single sample (including the most recent results, from early June).

However, it’s worth noting that CFPUA tests at a much more precise level than Chemours. CFPUA’s tests routinely detect a variety of PFAS chemicals at the level of ten parts per trillion or less, whereas Chemours’ detection limits were much higher at 100 parts per trillion and above (in other words, CFPUA can detect smaller amounts than Chemours).

Chemours notified CFPUA it would sent its samples to a private lab for ‘higher resolution analysis.’

CFPUA quoted the text of an email from Chemours, sent at 6:46 p.m. Thursday, July 23, by Christel Compton, Fayetteville Works Environmental Manager:

“We are writing to provide an update regarding the notification we sent Wednesday evening. As we had indicated, we collected samples from the Cape Fear River near the Tar Heel Ferry Road Bridge, which is seven miles downriver from the Fayetteville Works facility. Based on river travel time, we would expect that this location would have received, by the time of our sampling, impact from the sediments that may have been released from the Old Outfall at Fayetteville Works. We analyzed the samples at our on-site laboratory, and the results show no detection of HFPO Dimer Acid at a detection limit of approximately 100 parts per trillion. There were similarly no detections for the other ‘Table 3+ Compounds’ (with detection limits of 100 parts per trillion for all compounds except PEPA and NVHOS, and a detection limit of 500 parts per trillion for those two). Duplicate samples have been sent to our third-party laboratory TestAmerica, which is able to analyze to lower detection limits, and those results are pending. As stated yesterday, please let us know if you have any questions.”

Three years after GenX made headlines, and more than a year after the NCDEQ’s 2019 consent order, PFAS levels in the Cape Fear River are reduced, largely due to court-ordered efforts at Chemours’ facility. However, that consent order did not force Chemours to help shoulder the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by CFPUA, Brunswick County, and H2GO to address contaminated drinking water.

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