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State officials: More well testing for GenX

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By Erin Smith

An information session regarding Chemours and GenX was conducted on Thursday night at the Gray’s Creek High School auditorium in Hope Mills. Several hundred people attended meeting seeking answers regarding contaminated wells and potential health effects.

Cries of “shut them down” were heard at various points during the presentations and question and answer session. Officials did state that a third round of well testing will be performed and state officials are performing “spot checks” on wells tested by Chemours after concerns were expressed by members of the public regarding the reliability of testing performed by Chemours.

Bladen County Commissioners Chairman Ray Britt, who attended the meeting, said, “We’ve heard here tonight pretty much what we have already heard in Bladen County. We had a meeting just a few weeks ago and it’s pretty much the same information. They (state officials) are going around to the different communities in the area to share the data and information but I can’t say that I got any more information tonight than we already had than we got in Bladen County which is still not enough.  A lot of concern, a lot of questions, still a lot of no answers and I understand they don’t know a lot of the answers.”

Britt said he understands state officials are doing the best they can to develop information and get answers for residents and local government officials.

“I’m very concerned. It looks like it is going to be a drawn out process due to the lack of knowledge of the compounds and the chemicals they are dealing with but I do feel confident that we will be finding out (more about the compounds). I feel good  the truth will prevail and one thing I do like to hear for the tax payers in our county, and we’ll continue to push this, but, so far we haven’t had to, Chemours will be expected by the state as well as the county to pick up the tab on the expenses being incurred,” said Britt.

The meeting featured state officials from the Department of Environmental Quality, Division of waste Management, the Department of Health and Human Services, Bladen County Commissioners, Cumberland County Commissioners, Gray’s Creek Board of Alderman and Rep. William Brisson, and Rep. John Szoka.

Michael Scott with the North Carolina Division of Waste Management gave the standing room only crowd updated information on the testing of wells. Scott said in the first round of well testing performed there were 141 wells tested within 1.5 mile radius of the plant.  After the test were conducted 51 private wells were found to have GenX levels above the health standard of 140 parts per trillion.

Scott said a second phase of well testing was performed where 208 private wells were tested and 64 were found to have GenX levels above health standard.

In response to the concerns about testing conducted by Chemours, Scott said the laboratory being utilized by Chemours is Parsons. Scott said state officials are reviewing the test results and Parsons is duly certified to perform such testing.

Scott also pointed out the wells that are testing positive for GenX contamination are wells which are 100 feet deep or less. Scott said deeper wells are not as likely to show contamination.

“After two rounds of testing, we have reached the decision more wells need to be sampled,” said Scott.

He told the crowd gathered Chemours is doing private well sampling and the Department of Environmental Quality is also doing some private well sampling as well and spot checking wells Chemours has sampled.

Scott said the water at Grays Creek Elementary school tested at 5 parts per trillion. The school is using bottled water for the time being.

At Camp Dixie in Bladen County, the lake was found to have GenX levels of 620 parts per trillion. The lake was tested by request, said Scott.

He also pointed out that Marshwood Lake to the north of Chemours also was found to be contaminated with GenX.

No recommendations were made in the meeting regarding swimming in either lake. It was stressed the health standard of 140 parts per trillion is for drinking water only.

There was a question asked about a blood test for GenX being offered. The answer given was, currently, there is no blood test available; however, two universities are working together to develop a blood test.

Another revelation made at the meeting was the fact a honey farmer, who was not named in the meeting, had his honey tested. The test was positive for the presence of GenX. Officials stressed the honey was safe to consume.

Officials said Chemours is providing bottled water to residents of both Bladen and Cumberland counties whose wells showed high levels of GenX. Concerns were expressed by the audience, however, when it was revealed the pick up site for bottled water was offering pallets of one gallon jugs. It was also pointed out the site is not monitored and some individuals have trouble carrying the gallon jugs to their vehicles.

One speaker said his letter specified bottled water, not gallon jugs. Officials said they will talk with Chemours regarding the concerns about bottled water.

Officials also told the crowd they are actively working to figure out what is going on with the facility and additional monitoring wells have been developed and additional soil sampling is taking place. They also said additional sampling of aquifers will be taking place as well.

Division of Air Quality’s Mike Buzinski said that over the years  GenX air emissions by Chemours has been between 1 to 4 pounds. He explained that a compound called Dimer Acid Fluoride, which converts to GenX when it comes into contact with water, has been released in much larger quantities.

Buzinski said researchers now have the question of what does it take to convert Dimer Acid Flouride to GenX? He said they do not currently if it converts to GenX with simple exposure to normal humidity or if it needs more moisture such as rain.

Buzinski said another question researchers are studying is where do Chemours’ air emissions go and what do they contribute? He said the Division of Air Quality has broadened its analysis using meteorological data from Fayetteville airport

He said the next step is to require the plant to measure the emissions coming from the stack. This is known as stack testing and Chemours has been requested to start stack testing as soon as possible.

Sheila Holman, Assistant Secretary for Environment, told the crowd there is currently no more wastewater being discharged into river by Chemours. She also reminded those present the state has pulled Chemours’ wastewater discharge permit.

Holman also revealed state officials are working on a new discharge permit for Chemours. There will public meetings regarding the new permit.

Zach Moore with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said,  “Our role in this is so to determine if it poses a risk to your health and provide guidance on what levels are safe.”

He said NC DHHS determined that an exposure level of 140 parts per trillion to be safe. Moore explained this rate is the rate at which “no harmful health effects and no adverse effects” ocurred.

Those with wells which tested higher than the standard of 140 parts per trillion were advised not to drink the water. They were told it is safe to utilize the water for bathing, washing clothes, and washing dishes.

It was also revealed that two criminal investigations are taking place into Chemours and possible violations of their permits. The investigations are being conducted at the state and federal level and state officials said they have provided documents to both investigations.

Willie Williams, who owns property in both Bladen County and Grays Creek which is being impacted by the GenX contamination, said “Who will pay for testing of wells in Grays Creek?”

Officials said the testing is being paid for by Chemours.

Williams said that following Hurricane Matthew he had his wells tested and was told they were contaminated. He told it took him two weeks before he was allowed to drink the water in his wells.

“Now, here we are one year later and I don’t know (if I can drink the water),” said Williams.

Williams said he has not been asked to submit samples from his wells in Bladen County and Gray’s Creek. His neighbors had also not had their wells tested. He pointed out they reside near Gray’s Creek Elementary School which was issued bottled water after the water at the school was tested.

Another commenter said, “To allow Chemours to tell you how much they are emitting is like letting the fox guard the hen house.”

State officials said residents with questions related to well testing and Chemours can call 919-707-8200.