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Chemours Pushing Filters For Homes With GenX Tainted Wells

File photo of a protest sign in front of Chemours' President of Fluoroproducts Paul Kirsch during a community meeting hosted by the chemical company Chemours at Faith Tabernacle Christian Center in St. Pauls, N.C. on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.
Ben McKeown

Chemours and state regulators may not see eye to eye on a long-term solution for residential wells tainted by GenX.

Airborne GenX produced by Chemours at the company’s Fayetteville Works site has contaminated wells in Bladen, Cumberland and Robeson counties.

A little more than a year ago, news surfaced that Chemours had been releasing GenX and other unregulated fluorocarbon compounds into the Cape Fear River for years, contaminating water downstream for more than 200,000 public utility customers.

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority has been testing a new filtration system to remove GenX and other emerging contaminants from the water, though CFPUA officials say producers like Chemours must be held responsible for keeping such chemicals from getting in the water supply in the first place.

Closer to the Chemours plant, residents with wells at or above the state advisory threshold for GenX have been subsiding on bottled water dispensed by the chemical manufacturer.

At the state Department of Environmental Quality's request, Chemours has been testing granular activated carbon, or GAC, filters.

The company has also commissioned a feasibility study of municipal water hookups.

According to Chemours, a pilot study on six homes with contaminated wells shows the GAC filters are effective.

Hooking well-reliant homes to municipal water lines, however, would be too costly and take too long to complete.

But Michael Scott, director of DEQ’s Division of Waste Management, said in a telephone interview with WUNC that it is too soon to make that call.

"What does that mean?” Scott asked. “To me, it means at the end of July we're going to look at the data in its entirety and decide next steps."

Chemours spokeswoman Alvenia Scarborough said in an email response to questions from WUNC, that the company wants to address water quality concerns “quickly and effectively.”

Whereas the GAC filtration units are whole-house systems that have proven successful at treating C3 Dimer Acid, or GenX, and similar materials, Scarborough said in her email, the municipal hookups are a more costly and lengthy prospect.

Costs and completion times vary depending on where homes are located.

For example, Scarborough said the Chemours-commissioned feasibility study shows installing municipal water lines for 47 homes in Bladen County west of the Cape Fear River would cost approximately $74,000 per home and take up to four years to complete.

Hookups for Bladen County homes east of the Cape Fear, however, would cost more than $400,000.

In Cumberland County, according to Chemours’s feasibility study, hooking up homes east of the Cape Fear to municipal water lines would cost more than $300,000 per home and could take up to eight years to complete.

DEQ’s Michael Scott said regulators generally see GAC filters as temporary water quality solutions.

"But the department does not consider them permanent, long-term solutions unless there's a cost prohibitive component to running a water line," Scott said.

Water quality testing of residential wells—and a search for the edge of the pollution bloom--in the vicinity of the Chemours plant continues.

To date, approximately 1,000 wells have been tested. GenX levels at or above the 140 parts per trillion state advisory threshold have been detected in 225 of them.

GenX levels below the provisional mark have been found in 538 wells.

The human health effects of GenX are not known but it has been linked to cancer in lab animals.

Rusty Jacobs is WUNC's Voting and Election Integrity Reporter.
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