FAYETTEVILLE — North Carolina residents across the state were here Tuesday to appeal to the Environmental Protection Agency to intervene in their ongoing battle with DuPont and its Fayetteville Works plant’s production of the chemicals polluting their drinking water.
“I beg EPA to follow through on these actions,” pleaded New Hanover County resident Priss Endo, suggesting three moves by the federal agency. “Require testing of drinking water for all PFAS chemicals, ban PFAS in new products, and require utilities to use best available water treatment problems.”
EPA officials, gathered at the behest of elected officials, heard all day from hundreds of concerned citizens like Endo. Much of the discussion focused on Chemours and its production of GenX, but the agency said it wanted to hear from people about per- and polyfouroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in general, in order that it might begin to research whether the chemicals should be regulated.
“As EPA contemplates the national PFAS strategy, we recognize the amount of work that lies ahead,” said NC. Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan, “The state of North Carolina will continue to be a strong partner and leader in addressing these compounds.”
Other state leaders were not as confident in North Carolina’s handling of the issue, both past and future. Congresswoman Deb Butler, a Democrat from District 18, praised the informed constituency of the Tar Heel State but chided its elected officials.
“We in the North Carolina General Assembly are derelict in our duties on this issue,” she told EPA officials. “We have put politics before people and are more afraid of being elected than we are of big business. We are not capable of dealing effectively with this challenge. Therefore, North Carolina needs you desperately to do for North Carolina what we do not have the will to do for ourselves — hold this company responsible and stop them from contaminating our communities.”
Developing ways of measuring PFAS in the air was suggested by Division of Air Quality Director Mike Abraczinskas, and a Cape Fear River Watch spokesman called on the EPA to more closely regulate the industries that are manufacturing and discharging the compounds. Multiple speakers voiced the need to be preventative rather than reactionary.
“Water treatment is not the only solution to the PFAS problem,” stated Carel Vandermeyden, director of engineering for the Cape Fear Public Utility in Wilmington.
While many speakers voiced gratitude at EPA’s presence and hope for the organization’s intervention, others were more critical of the federal agency, including Fayetteville veteran and water purification specialist Miguel Grogoa.
“This is not a Q&A, because they can’t look us in the eye and tell us why this happened,” he told guests. “It’s a failure of our leaders, the EPA, and DuPont; they let us down. I feel the EPA has lost credibility; our leaders have lost credibility; and DuPont is just after money.”
Peter Grevatt, director of EPA Ground Water and Drinking Water, said he was not surprised by the emotional appeals and even criticism he had heard that day.
“They’re real and heartfelt about personal struggles,” he remarked. “It’s hard to overstate how important this is.”
The agency, he said, is working on developing a toxicity value for GenX, and a report should be out by the end of September. The value, however, will not be enforceable but could be a guide for state leaders. North Carolina has set a provisional health goal of 140 parts per trillion for GenX.
Denise Bruce, with the environmental group Sustainable Sandhills, is in the camp of people believing the goal should be changed.
“Those concentrations need to be brought to zero,” she told the EOA panel. “There is not an acceptable level of carcinogens.”
Mick Noland, chief operations officer with the Fayetteville Public Works Commission’s Division of Water Resources, said the idea of eliminating PFAS completely is out of the realm of possibility.
“You can’t have a regulation for everything, so you try to pick the ones that are of the most concern and check on those,” he stated.
Of the reported 10,000 PFAS chemicals worldwide, approximately 1,200 have been studied by the EPA, but officials said there’s no way of knowing the exact number of PFAS.
Noland believes companies like Chemours should be given a chance.
“There’s no more GenX in the river, and there are no more emissions,” he said. “Have they shut down Chemours? No. Maybe we ought to give them a chance to fix the problem and stay in operation, because they provide jobs, and they make products we want.”
Dana Sergeant shows EPA officials a photo of her firefighter brother, who was recently diagnosed with fatal cancer. Sergeant believes his disease could be related to PFAS and urged the EPA to research and regulate the manufacture and release of the compounds.
Several entities were in Fayetteville on Tuesday for two sessions, engaging the public on its view of the recent news regarding pollutants in the Cape Fear River.
Residents from Fayetteville to the coast came to be heard by the EPC on Tuesday night.
News of the compound GenX getting into Wilmington drinking water was first reported by the StarNews newspaper in June 2017.
Demonstrators showed up in force Tuesday when the EPA held two sessions in Fayetteville.