I know that there are limitations as to what local officials can do about industrial chemical contamination such as we are dealing with in northwestern Bladen County. I also understand that the Bladen County Board of Commissioners has no regulatory authority over DuPont and Chemours, and that the authority of NCDEQ and NCHHS is limited by a Republican legislature who has stripped most of the protections for the environment from these state agencies.
I know that we will have to turn to lawyers and federal courts for help to deal with our permanent contamination.
But I do expect our county commissioners to do everything they possibly can to safeguard the Bladen County water system and to make sure that every person in Bladen County has safe drinking water.
I fear that there is far too much reliance on the stated accepted level of below 140 ppt. There is absolutely no proof that these chemicals are safe at any level, and most states have set their limits far lower. The current EPA recommended level is below 75 ppt. North Carolina regulators recommend a level of below 70 ppt for a total of all PFOs, PFAs, and PFOAs, including GenX and C8. These are the two most prevalent contaminants in our wells, but there are at least 15 different acid fluorides in some local wells. Wells, streams, ponds, and the river have tested at various levels all the way up to 63,000 ppt in one well on DuPont’s property that adjoins my family’s land.
Of the 13 wells in the Bladen County water system we know that three of them (Live Oak, White Oak, and Tobemory) already contain GenX and other acid fluoride contaminants at levels higher than many states allow in their drinking water. We also know that those levels will continue to rise as rainwater leeches more and more of the chemicals into the wells.
We know that every time anyone who gets county water from those wells turns on their faucet, they are bringing chemical contaminants into their home and drinking them, cooking with them, and bathing with them.
We know that if wells in other parts of the county fail, water from these three wells could be sent to other parts of the county to fill the need for water, allowing GenX and other chemicals to potentially spread throughout Bladen County.
There are still many unanswered questions about GenX, but enough is already known to prove that serious action needs to be taken to protect our county water supply from further contamination and to make certain that everybody in Bladen County has access to water free of chemical contaminants that could cause them to develop cancer or some other serious health problem and cause infertility, miscarriages, premature births, and developmental issues in children.
We now know that DuPont has been emitting contaminants of many kinds onto our property for nearly 40 years at various levels. We cannot do anything about that now, but we can try to end further damage. Our private wells are permanently contaminated and cannot ever be safely used, so we have no choice but to depend on our county water system. Now that the Bladen County commissioners are aware of the contamination in our county’s wells, it is reasonable for area citizens to expect them to do everything they can to protect our county water system from further contamination.
That is all I am asking the County commissioners to do — contain the water contamination before it harms other Bladen County citizens the way we are being harmed, and bring safe drinking water to everyone in our part of the county as well as every other Bladen County resident.
Patsy Sheppard is a resident of Tar Heel and a regular contributor to the Bladen Journal.