TAR HEEL — “My husband knew he was taking a risk working around chemicals at DuPont. He just didn’t know he was coming home and drinking them every night, too.”
Patricia Sheppard — whose husband retired from DuPont — lives in Tar Heel near the Chemours plant and voiced this concern Thursday about results of preliminary testing on residential wells in the area.
Earlier this month, the Chemours Fayetteville Works company agreed, in response to elevated levels of GenX found in its own groundwater, to test residential wells in a one-mile radius around the Chemours Fayetteville Works plant. The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Division of Health and Human Services (DHHS) decided to conduct their own tests, extending the radius to 1½ miles and testing not only for GenX, but also for two other fluorinated compounds, PFOA and PFOS, known carcinogens.
To date, Chemours has received preliminary test results for 32 residential wells for people living near the facility. Of the 32 wells, 13 did not have GenX. Eight were found to be below the state’s provisional health goal, 140 parts per trillion. The remaining 11 homeowners were notified of elevated levels beyond the state’s allowable limit and were supplied with bottled water and health information about the chemical.
“It’s important to understand that the state’s provisional health goal for GenX represents the concentration of GenX at which no adverse, non-cancer health effects would be anticipated in the most sensitive populations over an entire lifetime of exposure,” reads a press release from Gov. Roy Cooper’s office.
William Cain is one homeowner who may be able to bear witness to whether the levels are safe or not. At 72 years of age, he has spent 70 of those in the Bladen County home in which he currently resides, about one mile from Chemours. Earlier this week, he found out his well is contaminated.
“I’m really disappointed,” Cain commented Thursday. “I don’t know if you could say I’m surprised, but I was definitely hoping it wouldn’t happen.
“I live on a road with three other people, and it’s too expensive to run county water out here for so few people,” he continued. “A well is my only option, and I have a good well — I’ve been very satisfied with it, and I hate to have to go to something else.”
Cain described himself as “in good health, for somebody my age.”
Sheppard, who is Cain’s neighbor and co-owner of a farm less than three miles from Chemours, doesn’t see a ready solution to the problem with groundwater.
“Who knows how much it would cost to run county water out to farms in this area, and how much it would take to water all those livestock,” she remarked. “It would be cost prohibitive to running a farm.”
Sheppard also voiced concerns about the impact to consumers.
“Smithfield uses Cape Fear River water for all its processing, and their food is shipped all over the world,” she commented. “Farmers in this area are irrigating with that groundwater and selling their food. The potential impact is enormous.”
Though it’s not known at this time how many of the 11 wells are in Bladen County and how many are in Cumberland County, Cooper’s office says “most of the 11 wells” are north of the Chemours plant.
In response to the preliminary results, the state directed Chemours to supply bottled water to residents.
“We want to make sure people with elevated concentrations of GenX in their wells have an immediate alternative water source,” said Michael Regan, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. “Making sure people have clean drinking water is our top priority.”
Cain verified he had received 30 gallons of bottled water.
DEQ has collected 31 of its own samples from residential wells and is sending the samples to Gel Laboratories in Charleston, S.C., for analysis. Final results are expected in 3-4 weeks.
“I’m still hoping the final results will come back different,” Cain voiced. “It just remains to be seen, but I’m hoping.”
Health-related information on GenX, PFOA and PFOS has been posted to DEQ’s website at: https://deq.nc.gov/news/hot-topics/genx-investigation/health-related-resources-about-genx-pfoa-and-pfas. Residents with questions about the health effects related to GenX, PFOA or PFOS can contact the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 919-707-5900.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.