Chemours tries to ease minds of local residents

By: T.C. Hunter - The Robesonian

ST. PAULS — More than 120 people came to the Faith Tabernacle Christian Center on Tuesday looking for answers about the GenX found in area water, and Chemours representatives tried to provide them.

Almost 20 of the chemical company’s leaders and employees were present at the church about 100 yards east of the Robeson County line on N.C. 20. They were there to provide information about GenX and its related chemicals and the Fayetteville Works facility that was identified as the source of the contamination first found in drinking water from the Cape Fear River in June 2017.

They also were there to assure the people that the levels of contaminants found are not harmful to humans and the company has taken steps and will take more steps to rectify the situation.

One question asked was why Chemours is investing $100 million in Fayetteville Works if there is no danger.

“Because it’s the right thing to do,” said Brian Long, Fayetteville Works plant manager.

Chemours already has taken action to address the problem, Long said. The company, which is based in Wilmington, Del., has installed two air filtration units that went on line at the end of May. The units have reduced emissions by 70 percent.

Recent testing in Bladen, Cumberland and Robeson counties have suggested the contaminants also may be airborne.

The company will install a unit that reduces emissions by 99 percent by the end of 2019, Long said.

“Why is it taking so long?” he said.

The unit is being designed to fit Fayetteville Works’ operational specifications and is being custom built, he said. Two hundred people are employed in getting the unit ready.

“It takes time,” Long said.

All the points at which water from the plant was entering the Cape Fear River have been identified, he said. That water is being captured, pumped into tanker trucks and driven to Texas, where it can be disposed of properly.

“No more water from Fayetteville Works is being dumped into the Cape Fear River,” Long said.

Still questions were asked about what Chemours is doing to help people who draw water from wells.

Long said the company has started a pilot program using granular activated carbon units. The water filtration devices have been installed in six houses. The recently released data shows that the units remove all the GenX and related chemicals.

The company is ready to give the units to anyone who uses well water and wants them, Long said. The company will maintain them for life.

But there is a governmental holdup.

“The EPA wants more data,” he said.

As for contamination in the local food supply, Gary Jepson, chief toxicologist and director of Toxicology and Risk Assessment, said the company has researched GenX and its related chemicals for 10 years and concluded it is harmful to humans only if ingested over many years in amounts millions of time larger than the EPA standard of 140 parts per trillion.

The study results have been seen by scientists and published in peer journals, Jefferson said. A link to the studies can be found on the Chemours website.

The toxicologist dismissed claims that GenX caused cancerous tumors in test mice.

The types of tumors that developed in the mice can’t form in humans, he said.

Jefferson couldn’t answer a question about reports that GenX has appeared in honey. He said there have been no studies about the transfer of GenX from flowers to bees to honey.

“I’ve never been involved in a bee study,” Jefferson said.

The state is studying possible contamination of food sources, he said. When that study is complete it will be shared with Chemours and the company will share it with the public.

Paul Kirsch, president of Chemours’ Flurouproducts business unit, said the company will do better at keeping local residents informed.

“We want this to be the first of a longer conversation,” Kirsch said.

Tuesday’s conversation involved a church lobby lined on three sides with manned displays offering information about what the company has done and plans to do. There also was information about the 2,150-acre Fayetteville Works facility and the emission control systems in place and planned.

There also were people in the lobby with signs decrying the contamination and criticizing Chemours. One signed read “Chemours Chemical Terrorist.”

Mike Watters, of Fayetteville, was one of the people who came for answers. His is one of the six homes in the filtration pilot program.

“I just received the data from the program,” Watters said while holding a sheet of paper.

He came primarily to hear one thing.

“I want to know if it’s true, if Chemours will take responsibility for the filters or if they will pay for us to tap into county water,” he said.

T.C. Hunter can be reached at 910-816-1974 or via email at tchunter@robesonian.com.

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T.C. Hunter

The Robesonian