Report: PFAS levels in river nearly 1,000 times than ‘health goal’ before 2017

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The sign at the Chemours facility near Fayetteville (Photo: Jenna Kurzyna/WWAY)
The sign at the Chemours facility near Fayetteville (Photo: WWAY)

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A recent report shows the total concentration of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in the Cape Fear River was nearly 1,000 times more than the state’s recommended “health goal” level for GenX before 2017.

On Monday, Dr. Detlef Knappe, a professor at NC State University whose research in 2016 first revealed the presence of GenX and similar compounds in the river, wrote to the North Carolina of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services along with CFPUA of the new research.

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“We characterized for the first time archived samples from 2014 and 2015 using an expanded suite of fluoroether standards,” Dr. Knappe wrote to state and local regulators. “The 2014 sample was collected at Huske Dam, just downstream of the Chemours WW (wastewater) discharge. It had a total PFAS concentration of almost 1 mg/L (a million ng/L)! The 2015 sample was collected at Lock and Dam 1, and its total PFAS concentration was 130,000 ng/L. Given its fairly typical GenX concentration of 780 ng/L, I think results for this sample provide a reasonable snapshot of PFAS levels in drinking water of communities that sourced their water at Lock and Dam 1 prior to discharge control at the Fayetteville Works in mid-June of 2017.” (Note: ng/L is nanograms per liter, which is equivalent to parts per trillion.)

Dr. Knappe also wrote that “perfluorinated ethers, such as PFMOAA, PFO2HxA, and GenX are highly persistent chemicals” and that the study results “suggest that these chemicals are as persistent as historically used PFASs, such as PFOA and PFOS.”

PFMOAA, PFO2HxA, and GenX are among a list of PFAS identified by state regulators as originating at the Chemours chemical plant at the Fayetteville Works industrial site on the Bladen-Cumberland county line.



Chemours told state and local officials in June 2017 that GenX and other PFAS in the Cape Fear River, originally discovered by Dr. Knappe and other researchers, had been discharged by its plant as a byproduct of manufacturing operations that had been ongoing since about 1980. Chemours was created as a spinoff company by DuPont, which originally owned the Fayetteville Works.

The state suspended Chemours’ discharge permit in 2017 and pressed the company to institute measures to curb its air emissions, which have been tied by regulators to extensive groundwater contamination.

Under a consent order signed earlier this year with the NC Department of Environmental Quality, no process water is allowed to be discharged from the Fayetteville Works site and into the Cape Fear River. In 2018, Chemours agreed to eliminate 99.99 percent of GenX and PFAS air emissions by the end of 2019. As of August 2019, Chemours reported a 92 percent reduction in air emission of PFAS.

Those actions greatly dropped levels of PFAS in the river, with GenX concentrations consistently remaining below 140 parts per trillion. That’s the “health goal” level set by state regulators, which has been characterized as the concentration “at which no adverse non‐cancer health effects would be anticipated in the most sensitive population over an entire lifetime of exposure.”

However, trace amounts of GenX and other PFASs are still found.

In November, preliminary work begins on a project to add eight new deep beds holding granular activated carbon to significantly reduce PFAS in water treated at Sweeney. The Sweeney treatment enhancements project will cost $43 million to construct and $2.9 million a year to operate when construction concludes in 2022.

CFPUA believes Chemours and DuPont should bear these and other costs related to the damages they caused while running profitable businesses at the Fayetteville Works. CFPUA has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to force the companies to take responsibility.

Chemours released a statement on Wednesday afternoon regarding Dr. Knappe’s report.

“While we have not fully reviewed the publication, we understand that it relates to water samples from 2014 and 2015, much of which pre-dates the establishment of today’s Chemours,” it reads. “Our definitive actions have significantly reduced emissions to air and water, as is demonstrated through current water sampling data. We would encourage other businesses and industries whose actions impact water quality in the Cape Fear to do the same. Chemours remains committed to reducing PFAS emissions from our Fayetteville manufacturing facility by 99% or greater. We are on track to achieve a 99% reduction of air emissions of PFAS by the end of 2019.”

Read more about PFAS and GenX.