Environment, Legislature

A third of 110 private drinking water wells near Chemours tested high for GenX

Rep. Bill Brisson: “It’s not like the mice fell over dead when they were injected with GenX.” (Photo: NC General Assembly)

NC Policy Watch has more coverage of yesterday’s meeting of the House Select Committee on River Quality.

An assisting living home on Tranquility Road. Nine residences in one subdivision and three in another.

Sampling from September show the extent — so far — of GenX contamination in private drinking water wells near the Chemours plant. And the results have prompted state environmental regulators to extend the testing boundaries in hopes of capturing a fuller picture of the problem.

In total, the NC Department of Environmental Quality and Chemours have tested 110 wells. Of those, 40 had concentrations of GenX above the state’s provisional health goal of 140 parts per trillion. The Marshwood Lake subdivision, located northeast of the Chemours plant near the Bladen-Cumberland County line, recorded the highest number of exceedances — nine wells. And the highest concentration — 1,300 ppt — was also found in a well there.

Chemours is providing bottled water to all homes whose wells are above health goal.

Assistant Secretary of the Environment Sheila Holman told the House Select Committee on River Quality yesterday that additional wells would be sampled in a one-mile radius from the Chemours property line. The most recent tests were conducted one and a half miles from the center of the Chemours site. Since the site is so large, more than 2,300 acres, using the property line as a starting point would allow more wells to be sampled.

Because most of the affected wells are uphill from the plant, state environmental regulators theorize that the groundwater has become contaminated with GenX through air emissions — atmospheric deposition — from  Chemours. There is speculation — and the science is largely absent on this point — that certain compounds leaving the Chemours stack chemically transform into GenX when they come into contact with water. There isn’t an “obvious method” of measuring the ambient air quality near the plant for GenX, Holman said, but there are test methods being developed that can better measure the compound leaving the plant from the stack. “Does the contaminant act as a gas or a particle?” Holman said. “We don’t know.”

DEQ will also conduct soil and aquifer testing, plus additional sampling of Willis Creek, which runs north of the plant and feeds into the Cape Fear River.

We're scaring the puddin' out of the public Click To Tweet

At the committee meeting, lawmakers split their concerns between stopping unknown contaminants from entering the drinking water supply and dampening any public alarm over the safety of that water.

Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a Duplin County Republican, said people who have politicized the issue, including Gov. Roy Cooper, “need a spanking.” That politicization, Dixon claimed, has provided grist for the rumor mill. “How do we do this” — advising the public on the risks — “without scaring the puddin’ out of Mr. and Mrs. Public?”

“Are we scaring people?” reiterated Rep. Bob Steinburg, a Republican representing several counties in northeastern North Carolina. “Is there an uptick in cancer in these regions? We don’t want to incite panic.”

Overall, there has not been a significant increase in cancer compared with the state average, Department of Health and Human Services epidemiologist Zachary Moore said. But cancer is not the only illness that can be caused by exposure to GenX and perfluorinated compounds; the immune system and hormonal regulators can also be affected.

“It’s not my intent to create panic,” answered NC State University scientist Detlef Knappe. He has not signed on to the state’s announcement that the water is safe to drink, he said because “we need to look at the fuller range of compounds.”

In the industrialized world, the risk of chemical exposure is inherent in the normal course of living. “But this is an unnecessary risk,” Knappe said.

It's not like the mice fell over dead when they were injected with GenX Click To Tweet

There have been examples of predatory behavior on the part of some private well testers. Residents in Wilmington received mailers and phone calls offering testing services — for $850. (The state will conduct the tests for free in affected regions.) Although DEQ has not advised anyone not to bathe or wash dishes in the affected water, nonetheless, said Rep. Bill Brisson of Bladen County, “folks are scared to death. The testing has been blown out of proportion.”

Unfortunately, in his remarks Brisson did not seem to fully understand the scientific method, risk assessment or the caution that should accompany uncertainty. “It’s not like the mice fell over dead when they were injected with GenX,” Brisson said. “People die every day. There have been no tests showing it harms humans. There are no abnormal levels of cancer, but people are blaming GenX for their cancers for the past 30 years.”


Results from September show that 22 of 70 private drinking water wells sampled — 31 percent — contained concentrations of GenX above the state’s provisional health goal of 140 parts per trillion. Those wells are indicated by the red icons. Click on the icon for the address and concentration levels. An additional 23 wells tested positive for GenX but below the health goal. Twenty-five wells did not contain the compound.
Of all wells that had some level of GenX in them, the minimum concentration was 11 ppt and the maximum was 1,300 ppt. None of the wells exceeded EPA drinking water standards for other perfluorinated compounds. Subsequent testing of 40 more wells has shown that an additional 18 exceeded the health goals. Source: NC DEQ

One Comment

  1. richard manyes

    October 28, 2017 at 7:43 am

    Genx at these low levels is ubiquitous folks. Everywhere teflon is, you should find some PFOA or GenX.

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