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Cumberland commissioners get update on new health advisory for GenX

State says newly released levels will make about 1,700 more private wells eligible for whole house filtration systems.

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While the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners was being briefed by county staff on the latest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's health advisory for GenX, the company responsible for discharging the chemical pollutant disputes the findings.

The EPA last week dramatically changed the minimum levels of GenX in drinking water from 140 parts per trillion (ppt) to 10 parts per trillion. The new minimum replaces the state’s provisional safe drinking water goal for GenX established in 2018.

Assistant County Manager Sally Shutt presented the latest EPA findings to the board during Monday night’s regularly scheduled meeting. Only four of the seven members attended: Chairman Glenn Adams, Vice Chairwoman Toni Stewart and Commissioners Jeannette Council and Charles Evans.

GenX is one of the chemicals used at the Chemours Fayetteville Works plant that has leached into groundwater and the Cape Fear River and contaminated private drinking water wells, especially in the Gray’s Creek community in Cumberland County. The Chemours plant is located on the Cumberland and Bladen County line.

The board has established providing safe drinking water for the community as one of its stated priorities in the recently adopted fiscal 2023 budget.

Shutt told the commissioners the EPA final health advisory for GenX affects a current consent order that requires Chemours to provide whole house filtration or connection to public water for any private drinking well that tests above the new health advisory.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality already directed Chemours to revise its drinking water compliance requirements by taking into account the 10 ppt for GenX. According to the state, the newly released health advisory for GenX levels will make about 1,700 more private wells eligible for whole house filtration systems.

Contacted Monday for a response to the new requirements, Cassie Olszewski, the Chemours media relations and financial communications manager, referred to a Chemours statement released within hours of the EPA announcement.

“At Chemours, we support government regulation based on the best available science. While the EPA claims it followed the best available science in its nationwide health advisory on HFPO-Dimer Acid (“HFPO-DA"), that is not the case,” the release states.

It further states, “Nationally recognized toxicologists and other leading scientific experts across a range of disciplines have evaluated the EPA’s underlying analysis and concluded that it is fundamentally flawed.”

GenX is the trade name for HFPO-DA and is used, along with its ammonium salt, as a polymerization aid in the manufacturing of “high-performance fluoropolymers” used in a variety of products, from cooking pan coatings to electrical wire insulation. DuPont previously marketed the fluoropolymers as Teflon.

According to the release, Chemours currently uses what it calls state-of-the-art technologies at its sites to abate emissions and remediate previous pollutant releases.

“We are evaluating our next steps, including potential legal action, to address the EPA’s scientifically unsound action,” the release states.

The concern of GenX contamination of private water wells in area communities is prevalent among county leaders and staff. Well water contamination ranged 10 miles south and 25 miles north of the plant, according to Shutt.

“It’s deplorable,” said Adams.

“In 2017 it was 140 (ppt), now it's down to 10. We need to look at the entire county,” Adams said.

“We have PFAS in PWC water at higher concentrations,” he said.

The EPA also listed interim health advisory levels for several other PFAS chemicals: PFOA at .004 ppt and PFOS at .02 ppt. A third chemical, PFBS, did not have significant concentrations in samples taken to date in North Carolina.

During two rezoning cases involving small lot properties near Gray's Creek, Evans voted against the rezoning because those properties were not connected to water lines and instead relied on well water. Asked why he voted against the rezoning requests, he replied, “GenX.”

The state DEQ plans to hold community information meetings in July. The date has not been determined. Both the DEQ website and the Cumberland County government website will announce the dates for the information session.

Jason Brady covers Cumberland County government for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at jbrady@cityviewnc.com.

Cumberland County, Board of Commissioners, GenX, EPA, health advisory, Chemours