There are several major developments this month involving the Chemours Company, the Environmental Protection Agency, and a consent order that is awaiting approval by a Bladen County Court.
Just hours before Thanksgiving, word came of a consent order agreed to by Chemours. It’s in response to a lawsuit filed by the Department of Environmental Quality and Cape Fear River Watch that requires the company to pay a $12 million civil penalty, $1 million investigative costs, conduct a health study on 4 PFAS compounds, provide more well owners clean water, and do more to clean up its operation or pay additional fines.
The consent order still needs to be approved by a Bladen County Superior Court Judge.
This came on the heels of a draft report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA says long-term exposure to compounds currently used in nonstick coatings – such as GenX and other PFAS compounds - appears to be dangerous even in minute amounts.
“Having something from the EPA stating a number about GenX is huge. This is something that our community has been waiting for.”
Beth Markesino is the founder of ‘North Carolina - Stop GenX in our Water.’
“So in this EPA assessment, it did say subsequently that it would lead to cancer. Also kidney damage in mice and rats, problems with pregnancy and so on and so forth. So those were all things that we knew that in the PFAS family were relevant already.”
Specifically, the EPA draft says animal studies show the GenX compound has the potential of affecting the kidneys, blood, immune system, liver and developing fetuses following oral exposure. The data are suggestive of cancer, the draft report says. Some were surprised the EPA came out with its draft, given that it’s been more focused on deregulation in recent years.
“I think it shows that in any agency where administration is leading it, that certainly there are professionals behind the scenes who are not so subject to the political leanings of that administration and I think that's what's happening here.”
That’s Erin Carey, the coastal programs coordinator for the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club.
“I think you have people in the EPA who are long-term professionals and they see a public health crisis and they want to help.”
Carey is quick to point out that this is about a lot more than GenX.
“Yeah, and I think that cocktail is part of what people have been concerned about is not necessarily how much of any one chemical we have in our blood or in our system, but what that cocktail of chemicals could do to us long term.”
Just two weeks ago, researchers from North Carolina State University said they hadn’t found GenX in any of nearly 350 blood samples taken from Wilmingtonians late last year. However they did find other PFAS including Nafion byproduct 2, PFO4DA and PFO5DoDA in nearly all samples taken, and Hydro-EVE in 76 percent.
Dr. Jane Hoppin, the deputy director of the N.C. State Center for Human Health and the Environment, says these are chemicals that the science community knows nothing about.
As for the EPA report, which is now in its public comment period for 60 days, it’s unclear whether it will have an impact on the state’s current 140 parts per trillion provisional health goal.
Zack Moore is the state epidemiologist with the Department of Health and Human Services.
“This is a draft for public comment, so we're not doing anything in response to this EPA report. Like I said, we've been aware of this and there aren't any surprises in it for us. Once it becomes or if, if it becomes a final EPA approved document, then we'll reconsider whether that has any implications for our provisional drinking water health goal.”
Meanwhile Chemours, in an email to WHQR, says the consent agreement provides comprehensive solutions to the environmental concerns raised by the community and a compliance framework for operations at the Fayetteville Works facility. It also says Chemours’ commitments are clear with its investment of over $100 million to reduce emissions of GenX and all other PFAS compounds.
Vince Winkel, WHQR News.