ST.PAULS — At a public meeting Thursday to discuss the testing of wells around the Chemours chemical plant, state environmental officials promised Bruce Skinner that his well water would be tested right away.
“Yes, I’m very concerned about GenX,” said Skinner, who worked at the former DuPont plant for 40 years. “I live three-quarters of a mile from the plant. I’ve been talking to the state all week.”
Skinner was one of several people who live close to the plant, which produces and, until very recently, discharged GenX into the Cape Fear River. Underground water contamination became a concern after recent testing.
The North Carolina Division of Environmental Quality’s Water Resources Division plans to test 43 privately owned wells within 1.5 miles of the plant after test wells at the plant showed high levels of GenX. Some of the test wells also show amounts of a banned chemical called C8, according to a report Thursday in The Fayetteville Observer.
Nine property owners in Cumberland and Bladen counties signed documents on Thursday to have their wells tested. The meeting was held at St. Pauls Middle School even though no Robeson County property owners are in the testing zone.
GenX, which replaced the banned chemical PFOA or C8 eight years ago, is used in making non-stick coatings for cookware and other applications. C8 is a known cancer causing substance and was manufactured by DuPont in Ohio beginning in the 1950s. The company was sued successfully by people living upstream and downstream of its discharge into the Ohio River.
GenX is classified as a “new and emerging contaminant,” said Julie Woosley, a DEQ Hazardous Waste Division section chief. “There is a lot we don’t know about this chemical, including how it travels underground.”
State Division of Public Health representatives also were on hand to answer health-related questions.
Hubert Daniel Parker Jr., who lives near the plant, listed six relatives and neighbors who died of cancer. He was offered free water. Another resident, who asked not to be named, said she was unaware of any unusual health problems in the area around the plant.
DuPont spun off its Fayetteville and other chemical operations into a separate company called Chemours. Chemours agreed to stop discharging GenX into the Cape Fear in June after the DEQ began an investigation into whether or not Chemours or DuPont adequately informed the state of its intent to discharge GenX.
Meanwhile, the state is going all out to identify well owners within 1.5-mile radius of the plant. Forty-three wells have been identified and letters will be followed by a door-to-door campaign.
“We are asking for your help to determine if this compound has traveled off-site and how far,” Woosley told everyone. “Depending on the results, we may do more sampling.”
Several people who live outside the testing circle attended the meeting and expressed concern about their wells. Television crews and reporters from Fayetteville, Wilmington and Elizabethtown were present.
Also on hand was N.C. State environmental engineer Detlef Knapper, whose research played a role in calling attention to GenX in the Cape Fear. Knapper suggested a 20-mile radius is not too far to test for the chemical.
Although no Robeson County properties fall into the current study, Knapper said Lumberton is not too far away for GenX to travel. It also moves through the air, he said.
Attorney Kathy Brown, who has studied and worked with the Ohio and West Virginia C8 lawsuit, weighed in on the subject.
“GenX is not a new compound,” she said. “It has been known since at least 1963.”
Even an upstream community received compensation in the final settlement with DuPont in the C8 case, Brown said.
Asked about the geography of the region, Division of Environmental Quality staff members did not know that the Big Swamp, which drains into the Lumber River, is just a few miles from the Chemours plant. It is not a subject of the GenX investigation at this point.
Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-416-5649.