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New Hanover-area well owners are finally getting testing results. Three have PFAS contamination so far.

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Nearly 5 years after the public found out Chemours was dumping PFAS compounds into the Cape Fear River, drinking water wells in the Cape Fear Region are finally getting tested for the chemicals. So far, three have tested with levels high enough for Chemours to begin providing drinking water.

If you want to get your well tested for PFAS contamination, call Chemours at 910-678-1100. Messages left at that number are monitored during regular business hours, and Chemours should respond within 24-to-48 hours starting on the next business day.

For three years already, Chemours has been required to test well water for homes around its Fayetteville Works plant, where the company manufactures per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances. But the 2019 consent order NCDEQ signed with the company didn't offer the same level of protection to communities in the lower Cape Fear area.

It's well known, now, that the groundwater around the plant is contaminated with PFAS: a category of chemicals associated with negative health effects, including cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, and increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease. Households in that region with water supplies that tested with high levels of PFAS have received replacement drinking water, and in some cases, new and powerful filtration systems.

But until earlier this year, that free well water testing was not available to residents downriver in the Cape Fear Region: Brunswick, Pender, Columbus, and New Hanover counties.

Beth Markesino, founder of North Carolina Stop GenX in our Water, said she's disappointed it took so long to get that testing in the lower Cape Fear — especially because at least three wells have tested with elevated levels of PFAS already.

“Our wells should have been tested in 2017, not in 2022," she said.

Markesino has been telling residents to call Chemours to get their own wells tested, even if their neighbors have tested negative. The depth of the well may matter, and the patterns of contamination still aren’t entirely clear. Regardless, a Chemours spokesperson said any property owner with a drinking water well in those four counties can call to see if they’re eligible for testing.

Carol Baldwin called the company in April, shortly after Chemours submitted its well-sampling plan to the DEQ, and got her well tested for free. Almost a month later, she came home and found 60 gallons of bottled water on her porch.

“Oh, my gosh, it's so scary," Baldwin said. "I could not believe it. And I mean, matter of fact, for a couple of days, I'm like, surely they have the wrong house ... It's not my water, because I'm so far from the river, and so far from any Genx that I knew of.”

Carol lives in the same house where she grew up on Middlesound Loop road, in Ogden. She raised three girls there. About 30 years ago, they drilled their well a bit deeper. Turns out, she is one of the three households that tested positive for elevated levels of PFAS in New Hanover County —out of 68 so far.

Her well water tested above 70 parts per trillion of several combined PFAS, and she had one compound, PFMOAA, test at 63 parts per trillion. Just testing at 10 would have sufficed to qualify her for an alternative drinking supply. However, her daughter who lives down the road had her well tested too, and received results that weren't nearly so elevated.

"Each individual well owner has to be tested," Markesino points out. She says Baldwin's well is a bit deeper, which may account for the difference.

Baldwin said she's not satisfied with just bottled water.

“What I would want personally, is some kind of filtration," she said. "To shower in, also to drink the water and to feel very safe about it. And I would want that for everybody that has PFAS and in their water.”

Markesino said all residents with well water contaminated by Chemours deserve those filters: reverse osmosis or granular activated carbon, the two approved methods for removing PFAS from drinking water. But Chemours has not promised to provide those options to residents of the lower Cape Fear — even though residents around Fayetteville can get those filters installed for free at similar levels of exposure.

Markesino is frustrated that the Cape Fear community went so long without knowing about its contamination and that well owners had to wait even longer to get free testing from the company that contaminated the water.

"I hate that it's been five years, and [Carol Baldwin] never knew that her wall was contaminated," she said.

Baldwin and Markesino both urge property owners with drinking water wells to seek testing. It’s very expensive to do independently, so the free testing from Chemours is a gamechanger. Chemours contracted with a third-party environmental consultant company, Parsons Environment and Infrastructure, to do the well testing, and that's who came out to Baldwin's property. She said it was a relatively simple process, but it did take nearly a month to get her results.

A Chemours spokesperson said the company is mailing letters that offer well sampling to approximately 20,000 addresses in New Hanover County. Chemours plans to mail out about 40,000 letters to addresses in the other three counties; Brunswick, approximately 27,500; Pender, approximately 11,800; and Columbus, approximately 4,000-8,000.

As of yet, DEQ has not approved the interim drinking water sampling plan Chemours submitted on April 1.

To Markesino, getting the information out there is a matter of public health. And for her, it’s personal. She has elevated levels of PFAS in her blood and blames the chemicals for a miscarriage she had several years ago.

“I don't want people to get sick," Markesino said. "People like Carol, who, they've lived here their whole life, they've drank this water their whole life. I hate that. I hate what this company has done to everybody. I hate it. I hate that they've gotten away with it all.”