DEQ: GenX is confirmed airborne; 70 Chemours neighbors file class action lawsuit

By: Chrysta Carroll - Bladen Journal

RALEIGH — GenX is in the air, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality confirmed this week.

On Friday, the state agency released results of rainwater samples taken near the Chemours facility following rain events on Jan. 28-29 and Feb. 4-5. The results show levels of GenX as high as 630 parts per trillion.

“The state health goal of 140 parts per trillion for drinking water should not be compared to rainwater concentrations, as the latter is not intended for direct consumption,” DEQ said it a press release. “However, these preliminary results confirm that the emerging contaminant is transported by wind and deposited via precipitation.”

Concentrations ranged from non-detectable levels and 5.2 ppt to 630 ppt during the January rain event and 9.98 ppt to 286 ppt in February. Samples were taken in a roughly 1-to-3-mile radius around the DuPont plant, with the highest levels being seen at a point west-southwest of the facility across N.C. 87. The site registered levels of 286 ppt in January and 630 ppt in February.

The information only affirms what residents living near the site have suspected. In a Feb. 20 article in the Bladen Journal, Grays Creek resident Annie Stevens noted various health problems, as well as issues with vegetation and wildlife.

“I think it’s in the air,” she said, “and it sticks to the trees, and when we have rain, it washes into the ground.”

Due to her fears, she stopped eating the food grown in her own garden, long a source of enjoyment to her and her husband.

Many residents at the recent Bladen County GenX forum speculated the same.

For agencies like DEQ, however, numbers are what is needed. Using detailed forecasts, DEQ placed sampling containers at 10 spots — not chosen to correlate with private well sampling — approximately one hour prior to the onset of rain and collected the samples within hours. Samples were transported to SGS North America, Inc., a private lab in Wilmington, as well as to the United State Environmental Protection Agency’s lab in Athens, Ga. for analysis. Meteorlogical data is being analyzed by DEQ to evaluate the impact of wind direction, velocity, and precipitation rates on the data.

The detection of GenX in rainwater follows a Feb. 12 Notice of Violation which cited Chemours’ failure to take action to terminate or control sources of contamination and mitigate onsite hazards as ordered by the state. The notice of violation directed Chemours to take immediate measures to mitigate any hazards at the Bladen County facility resulting from exposure to GenX and other pollutants, including reducing or eliminating air emissions.

“These findings lend weight to our belief that airborne GenX contributes to contamination of private wells and lakes near Chemours’ facility,” said Michael S. Regan, secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality. “We will continue to take any appropriate action that is necessary to protect the public health.”

Other actions taken by the state include:

— Dealing Chemours a Notice of Violation on Feb. 12, citing the company with failure to take action to terminate or control sources of contamination and mitigate onsite hazards as ordered by the state.

— Directing Chemours to take immediate action Feb. 12, including reducing or eliminating air emissions.

— Ordering Chemours to conduct its own rainwater sampling, which will be made public when it’s available.

— Ordering Chemours to install a new carbon absorption technology, which DEQ expects to “significantly cut the overall rate of GenX emissions from indoor air at the facility.”

— Requiring Chemours to conduct emission testing from its process areas. Results are expected in the coming weeks, and testing is ongoing.

For additional information about the state’s investigation of GenX and other emerging compounds, visit https://deq.nc.gov/news/hot-topics/genx-investigation.

*** Bladen residents take a stand ***

While Chemours tries to deal with the impact of its airborne contaminant, it was hit with another lawsuit this week, the first involving its closest neighbors.

Filed Wednesday with the United States Eastern District of North Carolina, the class action lawsuit alleges the properties around Chemours have been contaminated by perflourinated chemicals, or PFCs, including GenX. The 70 plaintiffs claim perflourinated chemicals will continue to exist in groundwater for decades, even if Chemours ceases disposing of them via its waste stream.

The case is being handled by Baron & Budd, a Texas-based law firm.

“After months of investigation, it is abundantly clear that both Chemours and DuPont acted with blatant disregard for the environmental impact that dumping PFCs would have on the people living nearby,” said Scott Summy, lead counsel on the case and attorney with Baron & Budd. “These companies understood the dangers associated with Gen X and many other PFAS contaminants for years and chose profits over corporate responsibility. They knowingly failed to disclose that they contaminated the aquifer, which is the source of domestic water for hundreds of residents living near the plant. We intend to protect the rights of these private well owners by holding Chemours and DuPont responsible for this contamination.”

The suit further alleges that Chemours and DuPont knew the PFCs created a probable risk to residents living near the facility and continued to deposit PFCs as late as 2017, adversely affecting the quality and safety of the water drawn from plaintiffs’ wells and requiring costly measures to remove the chemicals. Plaintiffs aim to recover damages associated with present and future removal of all PFCs from the property.

The lawsuit will likely not be the last the DuPont offshoot sees from its neighbors. Tar Heel resident Patsy Sheppard says she expects the lawsuit to morph and grow, and that she has separate plans of her own that involve her family’s farm near Chemours.

“My family has hired an attorney and will also be filing individual suits in state court for our loss of property values, damage to our property from the contamination, and any other thing that our attorney deems applicable,” she remarked.

Baron & Budd also represent Brunswick County, Wrightsville Beach, and the Lower Cape Fear Water & Sewer Authority in separate suits against Chemours and DuPont to recover costs required to investigate, manage, reduce, and remove the chemicals from Cape Fear drinking water. Co-counsel is Harold Seagle, with the North Carolina law firm Seagle Law.

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing ccarroll@bladenjournal.com.

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Chrysta Carroll

Bladen Journal