A carbon adsorption unit is seen at Chemours plant near Fayetteville on August 2, 2018. The company said the unit was intended to reduce air emissions. Melissa Sue Gerrits / Carolina Public Press

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New federal standards for the safe amount of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, present in drinking water put an additional 1,700 wells in southern Cumberland County over the limits of a new health advisory, according to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.

The area surrounds a plant operated by the chemical company Chemours, which produces GenX, a trade name for one PFAS. PFAS make up a large group of human-made chemicals that have been used in various consumer products since the 1950s, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

The new health advisory, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced last week, lowers the safety threshold for GenX found in drinking water from 140 parts per trillion, an interim standard established in 2016, to a final advisory of 10 ppt.

Two other PFAS, PFOS and PFOA, have been lowered from 70 ppt to interim amounts of 0.004 ppt and 0.02 ppt, respectively. These interim amounts will stay in place until the EPA establishes a national drinking water regulation.

GenX is considered to be a replacement for PFOA, according to the EPA. Another PFAS, PFBS, has a final health advisory of 2,000 ppt in drinking water. PFBS is considered a replacement for PFOS.

In March, Cumberland County filed a lawsuit against Chemours and its predecessor company DuPont, alleging that they “secretly pumped millions of pounds of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances” with a “blatant disregard” for residents in the county.

In an emailed statement from April to Carolina Public Press, Chemours said the company was disappointed by Cumberland’s decision to file a lawsuit.

“Our discussions with the county have included offering different alternative water systems to qualifying county properties,” the company said.

“We are also working collaboratively with the county and (the Fayetteville Public Works Commission) water to connect impacted Cumberland County residents to public water where feasible.”

On Chemours’ website, the company says GenX is safe, claiming that the substance is “rapidly eliminated from the body” if incidental exposure were to occur.

At Monday’s Cumberland County Board of Commissioners meeting, when county officials presented information on the new EPA health advisory, board Chairman Glenn Adams said the county needs to address drinking water in not just the area around the Chemours plant but in all of Cumberland County.

“This is just deplorable,” he said. “This is going to hit every municipality all over the state of North Carolina. … Don’t think that ‘Oh, that’s just those folks down there.’”

Last week, The News & Observer reported that unfinished drinking water in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill is also over the new EPA health advisory.

New state orders on Chemours

In light of the new EPA health advisory, DEQ sent a letter to Chemours, requiring the company to revise its plans, in line with the new threshold, of providing new drinking water, or new filtration, to affected residents.

This update to the state’s order makes the additional 1,700 well users eligible for new drinking water or new filtration.

Cumberland officials at the commissioners meeting on Monday said people who live near the plant can call Chemours at 910-678-1101 to have their water sampled.

Residents can attend a remote public hearing, hosted by DEQ, on a draft permit for Chemours at 6 p.m. Thursday.

The draft permit would substantially reduce the PFAS entering the Cape Fear River via contaminated groundwater, according to DEQ.

Ben Sessoms

Ben Sessoms is a Carolina Public Press staff writer based in Fayetteville. Send an email to bsessoms@carolinapublicpress.org to contact him.

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