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Clean water, full assessment a must

Chemical River No Comment

An aerial view of Fayetteville works facility in 2017 shows the 2,150-acre manufacturing site where Chemours, DuPont and Kuraray America operate near the Cape Fear River, about 100 miles upstream from Wilmington.

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Friday, February 2, 2018

Chemours, the chemical company whose plant on the Cumberland-Bladen county line has been dumping the chemical GenX into the Cape Fear River and apparently leaking it into the local water table, has offered to equip affected homes in the area around the plant with water filters.

The company recently told the state that it plans to put “granular activated carbon treatment” systems on wells with likely unsafe concentrations of GenX, a chemical used in the manufacture of Teflon and other nonstick or waterproofing materials. The chemical has been found in more than 250 private wells around the plant, about half of which have levels above what the state Department of Health and Human Services has set as safe. In tests on animals, GenX has been found to cause some forms of cancer and other health problems. So far, there is no definitive testing to document its effects on people.

The state hasn’t accepted the Chemours offer, and that’s the wise course at this point. “Activated carbon systems have not been considered a final remedy for contaminated groundwater,” state Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Bridget Munger said this week. Michael Scott, director of the DEQ’s Division of Waste Management, said in a letter to Chemours earlier this month that state officials “strongly recommend” that the company not implement the filter plan or notify residents about it until the plan gains state approval, which won’t happen anytime soon. Chemours had informed the state that it wanted to start installing the filter systems on Jan. 22. Scott suggested that the company begin with a pilot program at four residences, testing the systems for at least three months, while continuing to supply bottled water to affected families.

The filtration proposal was discussed when state officials came to Bladen Community College Thursday for a GenX informational meeting. Meanwhile, Cumberland County commissioners last week agreed that one of their top priorities this year is getting a safe municipal water supply to this county’s residents whose wells are contaminated by GenX. The county has already gotten estimates for the engineering studies that would be the starting point for a water project. That, ultimately, is the only long-term solution to the pollution problem, the only way to be certain that families in the area around Chemours’ Fayetteville Works are getting safe, clean water.

And when the county discusses the cost of the water system, the commissioners should be looking to Chemours and DuPont to foot a large portion of the bill. DuPont operated the Fayetteville Works for decades, producing Teflon and related products there. Chemours was created as a spinoff company by DuPont in 2015. Responsibility for GenX and other contaminants from the plant prior to 2015 belongs to DuPont, which still has a presence at the Fayetteville works. The taxpayers of Cumberland County didn’t put GenX, its predecessor, C8, and other related “emerging contaminants” in the river, on the land and in the groundwater around the plant. They shouldn’t be paying for the remediation.

At this point, we’re still not even sure what remediation will look like. New contamination has been discovered regularly since we first learned about GenX contamination in the Cape Fear River. Testing still hasn’t defined the boundaries of the contamination in the groundwater around the plant, and GenX has been found on the east side of the river as well. The chemical was also found in honey from a hive in Bladen County and new research from the Netherlands has found GenX in plants and vegetables around a similar Chemours plant there. Since there are substantial agricultural operations around the Fayetteville Works, it’s clear that expanded testing is needed.

While it’s clear that residents around the plant need safe water, it’s not at all clear what the extent of the problem is and what the ultimate solutions will be. It may be years before we know all the answers. But for now, we should all be able to agree that the water project is the top priority, along with a full mapping of the pollution’s extent.

The Fayetteville Observer

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