Environment

Because of PFAS contamination, Gray’s Creek Elementary to remain on bottled water

Inside the Sweeney water treatment plant at the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority. Although levels of GenX have decreased over the past two years since Chemours stopped discharging the compound into the Cape Fear River, water entering the plant is still contaminated with 1,4-Dioxane and PFAS from upstream industrial discharge. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

Students at Gray’s Creek Elementary School will remain on bottled water for at least another six months after recent tests showed drinking water wells contained perfluorinated compounds — PFAS — and GenX.

Chemours tested the drinking water well in late October at the request of the Cumberland County School system. Samples results show GenX levels of 6 parts per trillion and two individual PFAS levels of  34 ppt and 13 ppt.

DEQ has advised people not to drink water with PFAS levels of above 10 ppt for a single compound or a combined total of 70 ppt. The NC Department of Health and Human Services has set a health advisory goal of 140 ppt for GenX.

Exposure to PFAS and GenX have been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, high cholesterol, high blood pressure during pregnancy, thyroid disorders, low birth weight and other health problems.

Gray’s Creek enrolls more than 400 students in Pre-K through fifth grade; it lies five miles north of Chemours, in Hope Mills.

The school has been on bottled water since 2017, when GenX at levels of 5 ppt were initially detected in the drinking water wells.

A Chemours spokeswoman said the company is working with Cumberland County Schools and DEQ to quickly determine the most effective and feasible replacement drinking water system for Gray’s Creek Elementary School.

As part of a consent order with DEQ and Cape Fear River Watch, Chemours must provide and maintain permanent water systems to any public building, including schools, whose water is contaminated with GenX or PFAS. The most recent sampling results now require Chemours to provide a permanent alternate water system within six months. Until that time, the school will remain on bottled water, DEQ said.

Alderman Road Elementary School, which is located nearby was resampled in June 2019; results provided in September showed non-detection for GenX and other PFAS compounds, according to DEQ.

Downstream, some schools in New Hanover and Brunswick County are on public systems whose water is also contaminated. However, the consent order is limited to businesses, schools and homes that are on private drinking water wells; it does not apply to those on public systems.

Cape Fear Public Utility Authority tests from October showed total PFAS levels, including GenX, in treated water from the Sweeny plant at 330 ppt. Concentrations of 1,4-Dioxane, a likely human carcinogen, have decreased over the past three months, from 1.3 parts per billion in September, to 0.82 ppb last month. That is still above the EPA’s health goal of 0.35 ppb for drinking water.

At the Brunswick County Northwest Plant, sampling conducted in October showed GenX at levels of 14 ppt and 13.2 ppt. Testing detected 18 PFAS compounds at a total concentration of 390 ppt.

CFPUA and Brunswick County are suing Chemours in separate lawsuits.

This story has been corrected to say Chemours, not DEQ, tested the drinking water supply at Gray’s Creek Elementary.

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