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Mystery foam in Cumberland County contains high levels of PFAS, investigation ongoing

Source: EPA

This article has been corrected to say that neither Chemours nor DuPont produced PFOS at the Fayetteville Works plant.

High levels of toxic PFAS – perfluorinated and polyfluoroalkyl compounds – have been detected in a stream, as well as in foam that had accumulated in small pond in Cumberland County, about seven miles from the Chemours plant.

Prompted by a citizen complaint, the NC Department of Environmental Quality tested the water and the foam for 28 types of PFAS in March and April of this year.

The state and the EPA have issued a health advisory goal of 70 parts per trillion; DEQ has also stated that no one should drink water containing any single compound above 10 ppt. However, other states, like Michigan and New Jersey, have enacted enforceable standards that are more stringent.

Exposure to PFAS has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disorders, reproductive issues, low birth weight, high cholesterol, immune system problems, and other serious health issues.

 

Here are the foam results, all in parts per trillion:

PFOS     614.5
PFDA      90.1
PFNA      28.39
PFHXS    12.2

DEQ spokeswoman Anna Gurney said the agency is “investigating the composition and potential sources of the foam.” Since the investigation is ongoing, DEQ has not identified Chemours as the source. There is not an EPA-approved testing method for PFAS in foam, so the results should be interpreted in that context, Gurney said. There are more than 5,000 types of PFAS, but neither North Carolina nor the EPA regulates them in drinking water or foam.

Lisa Randall, spokeswoman for Chemours, said DEQ has not been in contact with the company regarding these results. “Based on results you have shared with us, many of the compounds listed are not associated with Chemours’ manufacturing operations. The highest PFAS levels were for PFOS, which is not associated with Chemours’s chemistry.

It’s true that Chemours does not use or produce PFOS. The chemical industry phased it out in the U.S. in the early 2000s.

However, PFOS is known as a “legacy” compound because it persists in the environment for decades, if not hundreds of years.

  • PFDA and PFNA are found in stain- and grease-proof coatings on food packaging, couches and carpet.
  • PFHxS is also found in stain-resistant fabrics, firefighting foams and food packaging. Production of this compound has been phased out in the U.S., but products containing PFHxS can still be legally imported.

Surface water in the unnamed stream, which flows into Rockfish Creek, also contained 18 types of these compounds, including GenX. Chemours routinely discharged GenX into the Cape Fear River Basin until state regulators prohibited it from doing so.

Concentrations of all the compounds in surface water totaled 53 ppt for the first sample and 78 ppt for the second.

Individual concentrations ranged from below 1 part per trillion to 24 ppt.

Based on the test results, Gurney said, PFAS appear “to concentrate in foam at levels higher than the underlying surface water.”

Gurney said the agency is urging the people to avoid contact with any unusual foam, as a safety precaution. Pets should not be allowed to touch it, either.

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