SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has expanded its actions to hold Chemours accountable for GenX and PFAS contamination of water in privately owned wells. This will affect residents in New Hanover County and possibly Pender, Columbus, and Brunswick counties, according to a release from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
Within 90 days, Chemours must submit plans to the DEQ on how it will begin assessing groundwater contamination in the downstream communities. Through specialized analytical testing –– the one method that can determine whether a well is polluted by PFAS –– Chemours will need to sample private wells and find out which residents are eligible for replacement drinking water supplies, which the company will provide.
Chemours is already pursuing similar remedies around its plant, in Bladen, Cumberland, and Robeson counties as part of a consent order the company entered with the state in 2019. The DEQ expanded the requirements to include communities downstream.
“The contamination from Chemours extends down the Cape Fear River into multiple communities and Chemours’ actions to address that contamination must reach those communities as well,” DEQ Secretary Elizabeth Biser stated in a press release. “DEQ will continue to take the necessary steps to provide relief to affected North Carolinians as the science and regulations require.”
For owners of private wells that are identified as affected by PFAS, Chemours must bear the burden of correcting the issues, whether by water delivery, connecting the home to a public water system, when feasible, or possibly installing a reverse osmosis system.
“It is important for our residents to be provided with the same protections as those who are close to the Chemours plant, and that means testing and monitoring the groundwater wells in our county and providing bottled water and then a permanent filtration or connection to a public water supply if elevated PFAS are detected,” New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman stated in a press release. “New Hanover County has advocated to be included in the Consent Order, and today’s actions are a positive step towards that.”
GenX chemicals and other PFAS have been flowing in the Cape Fear River for decades from the Fayetteville Works Facility off Highway 97, an hour-and-a-half west. Just last week, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report indicating local water contaminated by GenX is more toxic than previously expected. The EPA lowered its daily lifetime chronic reference dose for GenX to 3 ppt, meaning adverse effects may be anticipated if amounts exceed that. The pollutant’s effects on humans are still being researched, however, studies of animals that have ingested the chemical reveal health ramifications, particularly to the liver, according to the report.
Before beginning to sample the pollutants downriver, DEQ must provide the state department “an appropriate corrective action plan,” which will have to be signed off on, according to the official letter addressed to Fayetteville Works plant manager Dawn Hughes.
Also as part of the DEQ’s broadened requirement, Chemours must re-review well sampling already taken around Fayetteville Works Facility to determine which residents may be eligible for additional water supplies under a lower health advisory level.
EPA’s toxicity assessment last week has led the agency to create a federal drinking water health advisory level for GenX. It’s slated to be released by spring 2022 and will be based on the final reference dose taken. The revised level will likely be below 140 ng/L, the current limit in the 2019 Consent Order which calls on Chemours to provide drinking water supplies.
Two of Cape Fear Public Utility Authority’s three water systems are sourced by groundwater wells. The largest, known as the Richardson System, covers customers in Porters Neck, Ogden and parts of New Hanover County. The plant has a low-pressure reverse osmosis treatment that can filter out PFAS.
The Monterey Heights Systems, a smaller system of five groundwater wells, distributes to the Monkey Junction area. One of its five groundwater wells, located in Halyburton Park, tested this month for 20.7 ppt of total PFAS, half of which is resulting from Chemours, according to CFPUA. Two other wells turned up lower results: 4.5 ppt and 0.21 ppt.
“It is unclear whether these results are significant, given the very low levels, potential for sample contamination, and margin of error for PFAS analysis,” according to a CFPUA news release.
The highest levels of PFAS are in CFPUA’s emergency wells, as part of the Sweeney System that sources water from the Cape Fear River. The two wells with the greatest contamination in the system were taken offline, and others are tapped into only when quick maintenance is conducted each month on different systems.
Currently, residents whose drinking water is accessed from a private well are advised to fill up containers with free, clean water from the treated Richardson plant at the Ogden Park tennis courts. The station is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
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