Tuesday, April 16, 2024

County to install water station in Castle Hayne to combat PFAS-contaminated well water

A water station is planned to be installed in the Rockhill-Oakdale roads neighborhoods in Castle Hayne to provide clean water to those who have PFAS-contaminated well water. (Courtesy New Hanover County)

NEW HANOVER — The effects of PFAS contamination is far-reaching in southeastern North Carolina and for those using well water in the Castle Hayne area off Oakley and Rockhill roads, clean water is on the way.

New Hanover County commissioners unanimously voted to allocate $40,000 from its fiscal year 2023 general fund to install more water stations in unincorporated areas of the county. The money will cover connection fees, meters, plumbing, administrative costs and operation for five years minimum.

READ MORE: CFPUA files second lawsuit against DuPont, Chemours

ALSO: Catch up on more recent PFAS reporting

Staff and Cape Fear Public Utility have been working toward solutions to address groundwater contamination caused by Chemours’ Fayetteville Works facility, located 70 miles upstream from the greater Wilmington area. For four decades the global chemical company, an offshoot of DuPont, has released PFAS into the Cape Fear River, used to treat drinking water for 200,000 CFPUA customers.

PFAS persist in soils, groundwater and the air for thousands of years, earning the name “forever chemicals.” The pollutants’ effects on humans are still being researched, however, studies have shown it can lead to cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, and increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease. 

CFPUA completed the installation of its granular-activated reverse osmosis system at its Sweeney Water Treatment Plant last fall to filter water to 80% of its customer base. The remaining 20% is provided through groundwater wells. The Richardson System covers customers in Porters Neck, Ogden and other northern county areas, while Monterey Heights, a smaller system of five groundwater wells, distributes to the Monkey Junction area.

For those who aren’t CFPUA customers, the county is proposing installing four water stations for roughly $10,000 each. Two similar stations were put into place in Ogden and Veterans parks five years ago, when the contaminated drinking water was first discovered locally. Both stations are still operational and procure water from CFPUA’s two groundwater systems.

“Some residents are eligible for remedies outlined in the Chemours’ consent order or live adjacent to existing lines where connection is possible on the residents’ dime,” Rebekah Roth, planning and land use director, presented to commissioners Monday.

A consent order in 2019 filed by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and Cape Fear River Watch had the company remediate and reduce downstream contamination, as well as decrease emissions in air, soil and groundwater. Chemours is required to sample and test well water for anyone who requests it in the region. 

Expanded in 2021, the consent order now reaches more people in the Lower Cape Fear, including in New Hanover, Brunswick, Columbus, and Pender counties. It denotes households with contaminated groundwater would be able to receive bottled water or have a reverse osmosis system installed, paid by Chemours. The latter applies if the combined quantifiable concentrations of certain PFAS exceed 70 parts per trillion or qualified individual PFAS are beyond 10 ppt.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory for GenX chemicals is 10 ppt, though there is nothing yet in place enforcing the guidance. EPA has proposed the regulation of six PFAS compounds in public water systems, including PFOA and PFOS at 4 ppt and GenX chemicals including PFNA, PFHxS and PFBS (the public can comment here ahead of a public hearing slated for May 4).

The county has been working with CFPUA to pinpoint areas that would benefit from additional water stations. CFPUA representative Cammie Bellamy confirmed to PCD that Rockhill community members began inquiring about availability of utility services in the Castle Hayne neighborhood at the end of 2022.

“Several homeowners had received letters from Chemours alerting them that testing services were available for their private groundwater wells,” Bellamy wrote in an email to PCD.

The Rockhill-Oakdale communities have been outspoken about water safety for six months. Roth relayed to commissioners, “given the relationships and community support,” it seemed a logical place for one of the installations.

Increasing public water stations is part of a larger strategic plan the county is working with CFPUA toward implementing. Roth said it includes expanding utility infrastructure, but that will require reworking the sewer and water revolving loans program that started 20 years ago.

Administered by the county’s planning and land use department, the program helps connect low- and moderate-income households to public water and sewer with zero interest loans. It’s only available to qualifying households in unincorporated areas, normally up to $4,000 and to be paid over five to 10 years.

“Guidelines are not aligned with current infrastructure costs and community needs,” Roth said. 

Commissioners voted to approve its restructuring; as staff works through changes, no applications will be accepted for the program until new guidelines are established.

In the meantime, CFPUA has provided insight on where the other three stations could go, Roth told PCD. However, it’s still early in the process to firm up those details. Locations depend on a variety of factors, including accessibility and convenience for community members, locations within reach of public water hookups and a property owner’s “capacity to serve as partner.”

“Additional water station partnerships will be based on CFPUA’s and NCDEQ’s groundwater quality data about the communities most in need of the short-term solution and would be developed and administered by the county’s housing program team,” she told the board.

Commissioner Rob Zapple asked staff to consider expanding the pilot program even farther north into the county, specifically to Northern Regional Park.

“It was recently brought to my attention that there is no water source up there in that park that we are expanding, including more multi-use fields and more soccer fields,” he said. “They don’t have a drinking fountain … so if you can, please, add that on your list.”

[Ed. note: More information about Chemours’ well-sampling is available by calling (910) 678-1100 or learn more here.]

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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