GRAY’S CREEK — It has become clear, after a community forum last week at Gray’s Creek High School, that regardless of what information is shared, how much data is being studied and how in-depth presentations might be, the public expects more as the alarming number of private wells test positive for the chemical compound GenX.
A standing-room-only crowd packed the high-school’s auditorium on Thursday, and those attending were given a lengthy presentation of updated numbers and a sampling plan going forward.
The forum, and presentation, was hosted and given by officials with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.
GenX is the fiurst, but not the only chemical compound being found in the groundwater of wells in the region. It has also begun to emerge that another compound, a C3 dimer acid flouride, could be making its way around the region on an airborne path.
The chemical compounds are being manufactured by the Chemours Plant, part of the Fayettevile Works campus on the Bladen-Cumberland counties line. The compounds are used as part of a non-stick coating for cookware items.
During the forum last week, those in attendance repeatedly heard about the state’s level of 140 parts per trillion as the line between acceptable and hazardous in any water source.
But few in the crowd was willing to accept that.
“We just had a baby (and) if my well water tests positive at any level (for GenX), I’m not going to accept that,” one area resident told the state officials.
What the 140 ppt level has established is what well owners must be assisted with bottled water by Chemours. To date, about 115 private well users are getting bottled water after testing positive for GenX. Of the 350 wells tested, 144 have tested below the 140 ppt level and another 30 showed no detection whatsoever.
Much of the frustration during the forum centered around the fact that Chemours officials and even state officials have little or no understanding of what GenX or any of the other chemical compounds being manufactured can do if inhaled or ingested by humans. To date, only lab animals have been tested for the effects from GenX.
Just as frustrating is the fact that GenX has begun to show up in new areas — such as the St. Pauls area — giving credence to the concern that GenX is also an airborne treat.
Just last month, a beekeeper in St. Pauls found that his honey contained a small level of GenX and, according to The Robesonian, his bees harvested their pollen from areas in Bladen County.
“To me, that shows that GenX is airborne,” Bill Smith, director of the Robeson County Health Department, told The Robesonian. “The airborne nature of this chemical is a game-changer to me.”
There is also growing concern that GenX may already be in the Lumber River basin because of its proximity to the chemical plant.
In North Carolina, nobody seemed concerned that C-8 and its chemical cousin GenX might present problems for Southeastern North Carolina — until N.C. State professor Deteif Knappe, who is also an environmental engineer, began an independent investigation and presented his evidence to the Wilmington community.
In an interview with The Robesonian, Knappe said GenX contamination is widespread, and that gives reason for concern in Robeson County.
Back at the forum at Gray’s Creek High, requests for further testing of wells in an expanded area further away from the Chemours plant were met with promises to discuss the requests but no promises for action.
State Rep. John Szoka, whose district encompasses the Gray’s Creek area, told those in the audience the state’s General Assembly would have to approve the costs associated with testing more wells — which is about $100-plus per well — and he wasn’t sure he could convince lawmakers to make that commitment.
“There’s a lot of unknowns here,” he said. “The state is doing the best it can right now.”
Currently, the state is testing private wells up to one mile from the Chemours facility.
Additional community forums are expected, but none have yet been scheduled.