Well tests show traces of compound with 'suggestive' cancer risk

2018-02-13 | The Fayetteville Observer

Feb. 13--Nine private wells around a Bladen County plant have low levels of a compound the Environmental Protection Agency says has a "suggestive" risk for cancer.

Tests from the wells near the Chemours plant showed levels of PFOA well below the EPA drinking water health advisory levels, state records show. Five of the wells and one other have PFOS, a similar compound, according to the records.

PFOA and PFOS are known as C8 compounds because they have eight carbon atoms. The EPA has set a drinking water advisory for a combination of the two chemicals at 70 parts per trillion.

The highest level in a private well around the Chemours plant for the total of both compounds is less than half that -- 31.9 parts per trillion, state records show.

Two wells on the Chemours property have more than 3,000 parts per trillion of the two C8 compounds, according to state records.

DuPont, which formed Chemours as a spinoff company in 2015, said in 2009 that it would stop making C8. The company was facing a class-action lawsuit from thousands of people in Ohio and West Virginia because it had been discharging the compound into the Ohio River since the 1950s.

Chemours and DuPont agreed last year to settle about 3,500 lawsuits, with each company agreeing to pay $335.35 million and up to $25 million a year each for the next five years for potential later claims. The lawsuits had alleged that DuPont knew C8 was dangerous, but failed to stop it from poisoning the water supply.

State officials began testing private wells for PFOA and PFOS last year after they started to investigate GenX, a similar compound. GenX has been found in more than 250 private wells around the plant, including more than 120 that have levels above the state's provisional health advisory level.

Studies have linked GenX to testicular, pancreatic and liver cancer in animals, but it is not known whether those effects are the same in humans.

Chemours agreed in June that it would stop discharging GenX into the Cape Fear. State officials started testing private wells after the compound was found in 13 of 14 wells on the plant's property. A test on one of those wells showed GenX at 61,300 parts per trillion, according to state records.

State officials stopped regular testing of private wells in September. Instead, Chemours has hired a contractor to perform tests on the wells, but those tests do not include PFOA or PFOS.

Laura J. Leonard, a state Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman, said the state looks to the "responsible party" of contamination to perform assessment and remediation. The department is performing "spot checks" of private wells, she said.

Leonard said EPA tested for PFOA on six wells outside the Chemours facility in 2006, with five having no detection of the compound.

"As such, DEQ did not find it necessary to have Chemours sample for PFOA and PFOS within its initial sampling," she said. "DEQ did, however, decide to be proactive and include them in its sampling plans."

Staff writer Steve DeVane can be reached at sdevane@fayobserver.com or 486-3572.