DEQ directs Chemours to expand PFAS well sampling downstream, plus prepare for strong EPA regs on GenX

This is a developing story and will be updated.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality announced today it is requiring Chemours to expand the sampling area for GenX and PFAS contamination to private well owners in New Hanover, Pender, Columbus and Brunswick counties.

DEQ has determined that Chemours is responsible for contamination of groundwater monitoring wells and water supply wells in those areas. The company must assess the extent of contamination in downstream communities, DEQ said in a press release, and identify residents who may be eligible for replacement drinking water supplies. Chemours must submit plans to DEQ for approval.

“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,” said DEQ Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser in a prepared statement. “DEQ will continue to take the necessary steps to provide relief to affected North Carolinians as the science and regulations require.”

Also known as perfluorinated and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS have been linked to multiple and often serious health problems: thyroid disorders, kidney and testicular cancer, reproductive issues, low-birth weight, high cholesterol, and a depressed immune system.

There are at least 5,000 types of PFAS, which are specifically manufactured or are the byproducts of industrial processes. PFAS are found in many consumer products, including fast food packaging, pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, carpeting, furniture, fire-fighting foam, Teflon cookware, and stain- and water-resistant materials.

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority supported the agency’s actions. “The announcement by [DEQ] Secretary [Elizabeth S.] Biser is welcome news for our community,” said Kenneth Waldroup, CFPUA Executive Director. “The PFAS in our community’s groundwater is there because Chemours and its predecessor DuPont released it into the Cape Fear River and the air over multiple decades of profitable operations upriver from our community. As a result of Wednesday’s announcement, Chemours can no longer ignore its responsibilities to the residents of New Hanover County.”

Emily Donovan of Clean Cape Fear lives in Brunswick County. She has long advocated for more protections for private well owners downstream of Chemours’s Fayetteville Works plant. “Secretary Biser took decisive action today to protect groundwater users in every impacted county–not just the ones closest to Chemours,” Donovan told Policy Watch via email.

“Biser is building off of the good work coming from EPA Administrator Regan’s newly released GenX toxicity assessment. This is how taxpayer funded governments are supposed to work. We pay for these institutions. They should be protecting us, not poisoning us. Unfortunately, today’s actions still do not address the high levels of PFAS currently in downstream municipal ratepayer’s tap water. There is much more work to be done, but this is a good start.”

DEQ is also requiring Chemours to review existing well sampling in communities surrounding the Fayetteville Works facility to determine if more households could be eligible for whole house filtration and public water, in light of the revised Toxicity Assessment for GenX from the EPA.

Based on the new EPA data, the state’s health advisory goal would decrease from 140 parts per trillion between 4 ppt and 5 ppt. Hundreds more well owners could then qualify for alternative water sources.

Lisa Randall, spokeswoman for Chemours, told Policy Watch via email that the company “is a part of the solution to addressing PFAS contamination in North Carolina, and we will continue working with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), as we have been for several years, to move forward with efforts to address PFAS found in the environment related to our Fayetteville Works manufacturing site. We have worked closely with NCDEQ on implementation of on-site and off-site programs, including a private well sampling program, as part of the consent order agreement between Chemours, Cape Fear River Watch and the state of North Carolina.

“We are continuing to review the NCDEQ correspondence we just received and will follow-up with the agency for further clarification of their correspondence.”

Chemours has been advised that EPA will be releasing a federal drinking water health advisory level for GenX in the coming months.  The 2019 Consent Order requires Chemours to provide replacement permanent drinking water to private wells with “detections of GenX compounds in exceedance of 140 ppt, or any applicable health advisory, whichever is lower.”

DEQ is also requiring Chemours to develop a plan to switch residents who have previously received reverse osmosis systems based on GenX results to either public water or whole house filtrations systems  based on a lower GenX health advisory level.

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