The people in North Carolina know there have been concerns of significantly higher levels of chemicals in the water here over the past several years compared to other areas. GenX is a known concern, but there are other related chemicals that we should be worried about as well. You can refer to our previous article, “GenX and Other PFAS Chemicals Found at High Levels“, for some background information.
Chemours has been under scrutiny for quite some time now due to water pollution. A January Fayetteville Observer article, “State extends comment deadline to alleviate GenX contamination“, informs us of how Chemours plans to solve the pollution issues they caused. In the Summer of 2017, their plant in Bladen County by Cape Fear River and Cumberland County line had released perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, specifically GenX, into the river and then nearby drinking wells.
In efforts to eradicate the pollution problem, Chemours has ended PFAS discharge and installed equipment to cut 99% of the air emissions. They are also supplying bottled water to residents.
On December 31, 2019, Chemours gave the state a document called a corrective action plant to outline how they will control the emissions. The public originally had till February 5, 2020, to give feedback to state regulators on Chemours’ plan, but the NCDEQ pushed out the deadline to March 6, 2020, because two Cumberland County legislators who represent the contaminated area requested the extension.
Steps by Officials
The New Hanover County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors presented the “Resolution Regarding GenX and Synthetic Chemicals”, which was approved by the North Carolina Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts in early January. This information can be found in the recent Coastal Review article, “NC Soil, Water Conservation Addresses GenX“. Apparently this is the first time this problem has been formally addressed at the state level. The resolution has steps and requirements related to the reduction of PFAS chemicals. This Coastal Review article notes,
The resolution requests government agencies seek guidance from the precautionary principle, or ‘the principle that the introduction of a new product or process whose ultimate effects are disputed or unknown should be resisted.’ It also calls for state officials and corporate managers to create a list of industrial synthetic compounds that have been discharged into the environment and requests the state establish enforceable requirements banning the discharge of PFAS and allocate adequate funding to ensure oversight and compliance.
An article from North Carolina Health News published earlier this month, “New DEQ data show ‘staggering’ levels of PFAS in Cape Fear River Basin“, gives a lengthy report of what PFAS chemicals are, where they are, and the effect that they have.
These PFAS chemicals are called “forever chemicals”. The SELC attorney said that this is because they are “additive, meaning they don’t break down easily and accumulate in the environment and in the human body”, and adding that, “almost everyone in the United States has some level of PFAS in their bloodstream.”
As of the beginning of this month, there has been new data from the NCDEQ showing unsettling amounts of PFAS levels in a water sample from the Sanford sewage treatment plant that discharges into the Cape Fear River basin. This February North Carolina Health News article states,
The sample contained perfluorooctanesulfonic acid — or PFOS — measuring 1,000 parts per trillion. That is more than 14 times greater than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory of 70 parts per trillion for drinking water.
Additionally, recent data from tap water testing by the Environmental Working Group based in Washington D.C. showed “measurable levels of PFAS at all but one site”. There were 44 locations across 31 states and D.C. that were included in this testing. Out of all 44 locations, the highest level of PFAS detected was 186 parts per trillion in Brunswick County, North Carolina, which gets its drinking water from the Cape Fear River. The most unsettling part about this data is that it was detected at a school- Belville Elementary School in Leland.
Elementary School Water
We learn from a November WECT article, “Tests show GenX still a concern in water at NC elementary school“, that Gray’s Creek Elementary in Cumberland County, NC, has fallen victim to Chemours’ water pollution- again. The school’s Superintendent says they have been using bottled water for drinking and food preparation since 2017. New tests show levels of GenX to be very low at 6 parts per trillion and combined levels of other fluorinated compounds at 53 parts per trillion.
While both of these are below the levels specified in the Consent Order agreement with the State of North Carolina and Cape Fear River Watch, two of the other fluorinated compounds, PMPA and PFO2HxA, exceeded the 10 parts per trillion threshold for individual compounds. PMPA was detected at 34 parts per trillion and PFO2HxA at 13 parts per trillion. Chemours has since signed a consent order to be responsible for a permanent fix within 6 months. Additionally, the school district sent letters to parents sharing their excitement about working toward a permanent water filtration system.
What Do These Chemicals Do?
Hearing that such high levels of PFAS chemicals are being found is unnerving because there really is not a whole lot of knowledge about the effect that they can have on people’s bodies. The February North Carolina Health News article provides more detail,
According to the EPA, a person who drinks a level of 70 parts per trillion of PFOA or PFOS over a lifetime — or a combination of them both — stands an increased risk of adverse health effects, including testicular and kidney cancer, developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy, low birth weight, liver and thyroid disease, antibody production, high cholesterol, and ulcerative colitis.
Evidence has shown that it is possible that these risks may exist still with much lower levels of PFAS. The state of North Carolina can retaliate against cities if they violate their pretreatment pollution permits, but it does not have much ability to control the companies responsible for the pollution because these chemicals are unregulated.
We will continue to observe the GenX situation and deliver information on any new findings or resolutions. To learn more about the background and specifics of GenX, you can visit our law firm’s website pages:
- GenX Cancers Overview
- Summary of Information
- Timeline: GenX Contamination of the Cape Fear River
- Timeline: GenX Study Results
- GenX: Cancer Evaluation Form
Written by: Laura Beasley, Legal Assistant
Law Offices of Thomas J. Lamb, P.A.