FAYETTEVILLE — Commissioners of Bladen County and the economic development board were presented an overview of progress and a site tour related to GenX by the plant manager at The Chemours Co. on Thursday afternoon.
Brian Long explained to the group how Chemours was addressing its emissions issues, what has been done since an alarm was sounded in June 2017 related to the chemical compound being released into the Cape Fear River, and what will be done in the next 18 to 24 months.
“This plant is going to be looked at differently,” Long said as he led the group to the site of the $75 million facility that will house a thermal oxidizer, calcium flouride system and cooling tower. “We’re going to take emissions control to a level that wasn’t around even just a few years ago.”
Commissioners present included Charles Peterson, Russell Priest, Arthur Bullock, David Gooden and Ashley Trivette. The EDC was represented by its director, Chuck Huestess, and board members Dr. Darrell Page, Howell Clark, John White and Larry Barnhardt.
Ground is expected to be broken next month, Long said. The project includes an additional investment of $25 million for ongoing work until the thermolysis and water treatment is online, which Long estimates to be in 2020. It will take about 200 people to build it, and between 10 and 15 to operate it.
Asked by Trivette what citizens need to know, Long said, “We really care about them, and their concerns.”
Long said the company has been working to meet requests by the state and the community, aiming to show it operates safely and without harm to people or the environment. Bringing the thermal oxidizer online is a key part of the long-term solution.
“We’ll really get the ball over the goal line in 2020,” he said. “We’re doing it to invest in the community. We want to do something nobody else in the world has done. Regardless of how we got here, it’ll be right here.”
Long said the other point to be made toward Trivette’s question was the offering of granular activated carbon filtration systems to homes with a level of GenX above the state’s health goal for the compound.
“This is a heck of an investment by the company in safety,” said Page, the former president of Bladen Community College.
Long said interest in emerging contaminants is growing, and he expects that to continue. Building the new facility has become a possibility, he said, because significant increases in analytical capability have been made in recent years. Another reason, he said, is because Chemours “immediately got a team together to figure it out” in June 2017.
The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority approved a letter to the state’s Department of Environmental Quality asking for help evaluating GenX on June 7 last year. A day later, the StarNews newspaper in Wilmington began a “toxic tap water” series. The Cape Fear River provides drinking water downstream, including to Wilmington.
GenX is a trade name for C3 dimer acid, a compound used in the manufacture of products such as food packaging, nonstick coatings and firefighting foam. It’s also a byproduct of certain manufacturing processes. HFPO-DA, an acronym for hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid, is another name for the member of a family of chemical compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
The effects of GenX on humans isn’t fully known. State regulation has been evolving.
Part of the limited information about the health effects of GenX come from Dr. Damian Shea, professor of environmental chemistry and toxicology at N.C. State University. He analyzed data on the safety profile of C3 dimer acid. The decade-long look concludes, he wrote, “compelling scientific evidence that low levels of C3 dimer acid detected in the environment do not pose a risk to human health.”
Studies on lab animals have shown it causes cancer in the liver, pancreas and testicles, and has negative effects to the liver and blood.
Chemours’ website references both Shea’s report and the lab animal studies.
The state Department of Health and Human Services established a preliminary health goal of 71,000 parts per trillion June 8 of last year, then revised it five weeks later on July 14 to 140 parts per trillion. The DHHS said a “health goal is a non-regulatory, non-enforceable level of contamination below which no adverse health effects would be expected over a lifetime of exposure.”
GenX is considered the safer alternative to C8, a compound the company no longer makes. DuPont paid an EPA fine of $16.5 million for failing to report C8’s substantial risk to human health and settled a class-action lawsuit involving water contamination in the Ohio River Valley by paying out more than $670 million.
“I know everything they’re doing to be sure the situation is remedied,” Huestess said. “It was a great opportunity for other folks to see and hear what is going on, that they’re working to be a world-class chemical manufacturing facility.”
County commissioner Russell Priest, right, was one of five from the board taking in the tour and presentation Thursday from Brian Long, the plant manager at The Chemours Co.
Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @alanwooten19.