ELIZABETHTOWN — Chemours and the GenX water crisis were the main focus of attention for Bladen County commissioners on Monday, as they heard from representatives of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and area residents affected by contaminated wells.
In front of a standing-room-only crowd, Michael Scott, director of the state’s Division of Waste management, gave a power-point presentation that mapped out the scope of the problem created by the Dupont offshoot, as well as spoke about what lies ahead.
“There are state multiple agencies involved and we have been in close contact with federal agencies, as well,” he said. “But we all have to admit to a lot of unknowns (because) there is still a lot of study to be done.”
Scott told the board the NCDEQ continues to perform additional sampling at the Chemours site up to about a mile in radius from the plant location on the border of Bladen and Cumberland counties. He also said the testing has and will cover three specific areas — ground water, well water and air emissions — and they aren’t stopping at just the local site.
“Chemours does operate globally, not just in North Carolina, Ohio and New Jersey,” Scott said. “So we are looking at all of the info we can from all of their operations.”
He told the board that 140 wells were tested for GenX initially and that 35 had no detection, 55 tested below the state’s health level of 140 parts per trillion and 51 exceeded that level. Scott added there were 13 wells at Chemours that tested up to 61,000 ppt and, in Cumberland County, the highest well test showed 1,300 ppt.
He acknowledged there were a number of Bladen County wells that tested positive for GenX, but said so far they had tested at the lower end of scale — most below the 140 ppt, but some as much as 600 ppt.
“We are listening to the community as best we can to determine all of the contaminants we may be dealing with,” Scott said. “They obviously want to know everything that is in their water.”
He added that the NCDEQ is also looking into the affects of the contaminants, if any, there has been on the area’s fish and wildlife. So far, he said, there has been no hazards found, but more testing is in line.
For now, Scott said residents whose well has tested positive for GenX are being sent a letter and five cases of bottled water are delivered. From there, Crystal Springs has been secured to provide larger portions of water to be used for drinking and cooking only.
“This isn’t water to to be used for showers, washing clothes or dishes,” Scott said. “The well water, as long as it is 140 ppt or below, is still OK for those things.”
He added that an additional round of sampling will be started in Bladen County, probably pushing even further out from the Chemours site.
“But keep in mind, even though we’ve been working on this since June, this will still take a lot of time to get a true handle on,” Scott said. “Things are moving quickly, but this is a very large undertaking.”
The public response
Beth Markesino, a spokesperson with the group Wilmington’s Stop GenX in Our Waters, was fiery in her time before the board, telling them she had lost a son to the GenX contamination and that the state or Chemours isn’t doing anywhere near enough for residents affected.
She also said GenX isn’t the only contaminant out there.
“We’re talking about a toxic cocktail of 23 contaminants in our water,” Markesino said. “I urge this county to demand that the air and water permits (for Chemours) be taken away now.”
While much of the crowd remained silent, a resident of Cumberland County told the board that the state wasn’t doing enough sampling and weren’t testing for a larger number of contaminants. he also said he questioned the contamination levels being reported by the NCDEQ.
In response, Bladen County Vice Chairman Ray Britt told the residents and state representatives just how adamant he and the rest of the board are about getting accurate and regular information on the issue.
“The people affected — the same people who put us up here and look to us for answers every day — want and need those answers,” he said. “They want to know when they will have good water again.
“Myself and the rest of this board is concerned about being able to give them the answers they deserve,” Britt added. “That’s not being ugly or ill, but honest. We can only tell people what we are being told.”
Kip McClary, director of the county’s General Services Department, introduced an engineering consultant to the board who gave a brief overview of two options being considered to get county water lines extended to those in the rural areas and affected by the GenX contamination.
The first option would be to run lines to the residential areas as well as a 6-inch line up N.C. 87 into Cumberland County that would assist with those across the border that have been affected by GenX. That option would cost roughly $1.7 million.
The second option would run lines only to those Bladen County residents needing county water and not include a larger line into Cumberland County. That option would cost about $1.2 million.
McClary told the board either option would take between nine months and a year to complete.
No decisions were requested or made by the board on the issue.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.