By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
KURE BEACH - The Town of Kure Beach announced June 20th, they would test their drinking water source for the presence of the chemical GenX. The results are in and the Town announced on Tuesday August 8th that testing showed a very small amount detected in laboratory tests. Carolina Beach also announced on Tuesday the results of tests on their drinking water and said GenX was not detected.
The Wilmington Star News reported earlier this summer the presence of the chemical in the Cape Fear River. The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA) in Wilmington, NC, draws water from the river and treats it before it enters the public water supply and is consumed by customers. GenX is a chemical used by the manufacturing company Chemours located in Fayetteville, NC and can have negative impacts on public health.
Following a meeting with local elected officials Chemours announced June 20th, that it would capture, remove, and safely dispose of wastewater that contains the by-product GenX generated from fluoromonomers production at its manufacturing plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), GenX is a chemical used in the manufacturing of fluoropolymer resins, which are used for nonstick coatings such as Teflon and other purposes.
GenX is part of the perfluorinated family of compounds that includes the chemicals PFOS and PFOA. In 2009 GenX was created to replace the PFOA called C8 which led to a settlement by DuPont and Chemours of over $670 million dollars for a class action lawsuit originating in the Ohio Valley that focused on negative health impacts including links to cancer.
It's estimated that approximately 250,000 people are served by water drawn from the Cape Fear River and treated by CFPUA.
The Towns of Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach draw their drinking water from wells drilled into underground aquifers and have no connection to the CFPUA system.
During the Council's June 20th, meeting, Kure Beach Public Utilities Director Sonny Beeker explained, "GenX is a Teflon based toxin that has been detected in the drinking water of the Wilmington Cape Fear Public Utility Authority. The water that is in question is pulled straight out of the Cape Fear River. The Town of Kure Beach water supply is ground water. A deep well system which uses the PeeDee and Castle Hayne aquifers as a source. With that said, all of the reports that I've read there has not been one mention of GenX being found in any deep well system."
Beeker said he spoke with officials in neighboring Carolina Beach who indicated a test was previously done in 2015 in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a similar type of Teflon based toxin and no presence was detected.
He said, "Our water source is the same as theirs. We pull from the same source" and, "Our plans at this time is to sample our water for GenX. We will give Council the results as soon as they are available. We are working on the procedure for sampling and the testing laboratory that can do the test. The State is doing testing right now and we are talking to the same laboratories as they are dealing with."
Samples taken last month of CFPUA water tested for the chemical have shown levels both above and below the State's recommended health goal of GenX in parts per trillion (ppt).
On Tuesday August 8th, Kure Beach announced the test results from samples taken earlier this summer. In a release issued by the Town Tuesday it stated, "With the recent discovery of Perfluoro (2-propoxypropanoic) acid (GenX) in the Cape Fear River, the Town of Kure Beach decided to test its water source as a precautionary measure. The minimum level of GenX that can be detected by the current testing measure is 4.9 (ppt) parts per trillion. A trace amount of 5.2 ppt was found in the sample. In an effort to help provide context for health risks associated with GenX, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has established a health goal of 140 ppt. This goal is not a distinction between safe and unsafe levels, but is a level of contamination below which no adverse health effects would be expected over a lifetime of exposure. This goal is based on the most vulnerable population (bottle-fed infants) and is the most conservative level for other groups."
The release stated, "The amount of GenX found in the Town of Kure Beach water source (5.2 ppt) was well below the established health goal of 140 ppt. However, the Town of Kure Beach will resample its water source and will monitor the situation closely. We will continue to notify the public as new information becomes available."
The Town of Carolina Beach also announced test results for GenX from water samples taken from their well system last month.
On Tuesday August 8th, the Town issued the following statement, "Following the discovery of GenX, the Town of Carolina Beach decided to test its water source as a precautionary measure. Two independent companies were used to test random water samples from wells used for Carolina Beach's water supply. The companies were able to test for amounts as small as 2 to 4 parts per trillion (ppt). Both companies found no detection of GenX in the water samples. In an effort to help provide context for health risks associated with GenX, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has established a health goal of 140 ppt. This goal is not a distinction between safe and unsafe levels, but is a level of contamination below which no adverse health effects would be expected over a lifetime of exposure."
Wrightsville Beach announced last month they would shut down a well site after test results showed the presence of GenX within well water. According to a release from the Town of Wrightsville Beach on Friday July 14th, "State officials today released their first results of water quality samples and updated preliminary health assessment for concentrations of the unregulated compound GenX in local drinking water. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) recently revised health goal for exposure to GenX in drinking water is 140 parts per trillion. Three separate water samples were taken from Wrightsville Beach Well #11, located on Allen’s Lane on the mainland, which draws raw water from the Pee Dee Aquifer. These samples were sent to two separate labs for analysis. The results received today from the State of North Carolina for this well indicate trace amounts of GenX at a concentration range of 24 to 28 parts per trillion depending on the testing laboratory. Although this amount is well below the NCDHHS health goal of 140 parts per trillion, the Town will discontinue the use of Well #11 and test other wells in the system immediately. The positive results for GenX are likely a result of Well #11’s close proximity to an Aquifer Storage and Recovery Well (ASR) that Cape Fear Public Utility Authority operates approximately 3,500 feet from this well. An ASR well injects drinking water in the aquifer during off-peak water consumption periods and removes that water during peak demand periods. Cape Fear Public Utility Authority recently announced that they will be withdrawing water at this ASR well and the Pee Dee Aquifer soon."
CFPUA will remove approximately 48 million gallons of treated drinking water that was stored in the PeeDee aquifer via their ASR well while Chemours was discharging GenX into the Cape Fear River. Tests show that the water at the Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) well on Westbrook Avenue are below the GenX health goal of 140 ppt set by the NCDHHS, but above the average levels that CFPUA is currently supplying to customers. CFPUA plans to start withdrawing the water in early September. It will be discharged to the sewer system, and returned to the river downstream of all drinking water intakes.
According to the Governor Roy Cooper's office, Cooper has directed the "State Bureau of Investigation’s Diversion and Environmental Crimes Unit to assess whether a criminal investigation is warranted. The SBI will work with its partners at the state Department of Environmental Quality and federal EPA to determine if there is evidence of criminal violations of the permit or the federal consent order that is in place." Cooper also announced the State will deny an application submitted by Chemours to renew their permit to discharge GenX from the Fayetteville facility into the river.
According to the Governor's office, "Chemours is in the process of applying for a new NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit, a federal permit program that controls water pollution and is managed by North Carolina DEQ. Today, Governor Cooper announced that DEQ will deny Chemours’ permit request to release GenX, issuing a new draft permit that prevents GenX release. Acknowledging the potential for other possibly harmful compounds, Chemours’ draft permit will include a clause authorizing the state to quickly re-open the permit if needed to regulate and enforce levels of any of emerging compounds based on new scientific findings."
Cooper also spoke with officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and requested a Public Health Assessment to review potential long-term health effects of GenX.
According to Cooper's office, "Chemours disclosed that they have been discharging GenX as a byproduct from another manufacturing process since 1980. The CDC has the expertise needed to conduct complex exposure modeling that will give citizens a better understanding of any potential health risks from the last 30 years. Dr. Fitzgerald told the governor the CDC will begin these studies. Local, state and federal authorities will need to work together to provide all available data to the CDC."
Earlier this month the CFPUA announced they are filing a "Citizen suit" in federal court against Chemours and Dupont to enforce the requirements of the Clean Water Act ("CWA") and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act ("RCRA"). The federal court complaint will allege that: Chemours is in continuing violation of an "effluent standard or limitation" under the CWA (33 U.S.C. § 1365(a)(l)); and Chemours and DuPont have contributed, and Chemours is contributing, "to the past or present handling, storage, treatment, transportation, or disposal of any solid or hazardous waste which may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment" in violation of RCRA (42 U.S.C. § 6972(a)(l)(B)).
For CFPUA customers who prefer water from an alternate source, CFPUA is offering free water from a station at 615 Ogden Park Drive. This water is treated at CFPUA’s Richardson Nanofiltration plant, and testing of the finished water from the plant did not detect GenX.
Every Monday and Friday, CFPUA Staff reads the meter at the station to monitor its use. Monday’s reading showed that a total of 4,111 gallons have been withdrawn since July 18, the day CFPUA installed the meter. The running average is 196 gallons per day. For citizens unable to get to the free water station, CFPUA is partnering with the City of Wilmington and area churches to provide free water from Ogden Park. Visit www.cfpua.org or call 910-332-6550 for more information.