RALEIGH — State and federal health officials want to test neighbors of a Chemours Company plant to determine whether or not they are carrying little-understood industrial compounds in their bodies.
North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday it is working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and heath departments in Bladen and Cumberland counties to test dozens of volunteers living around the facility south of Fayetteville.
Officials plan to check the blood and urine of up to 30 people for GenX and 16 related chemicals. The state health agency said the results will allow comparisons to levels detected in people elsewhere, but won’t clarify whether or not GenX and related chemicals have specific health effects.
Test results will be shared with the participating adults and children.
Bill Smith, director of the Robeson County Health Department, has received testing guidelines.
“This will cost several hundred dollars, and a doctor would have to take the samples,” Smith said. “It may give people peace of mind.”
The state does not recommend the testing of human blood or urine, according to Dr. Ricky Langley, a physician consultant with Department of Health and Human Services/
“There is no recommendation from N.C. DHHS or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that clinicians should test patients for PFAS (GenX),” Langley wrote in a memo to health directors. “It remains unclear if these tests would be clinically useful, and it is not possible to connect PFAS test results with clinical outcomes.”
The connection between GenX exposure and human health remains unclear, although other related chemicals, no longer in use, cause a wide range of human ailments, including cancer, in animals. The federal Environmental Protection Agency set a limit of 70 parts per trillion in drinking water and the state DEQ set a limit of 140 ppt.
Smith said there is continuing discussion about whether the state’s health limit is too high or too low.
In a related development, Chemours announced Tuesday it is offering carbon filtration units to owners of wells that tested positive for a concentration of GenX above the state health threshold of 140 parts per trillion for GenX, according to a company news release. The company is offering to install and maintain whole-house granular activated carbon filtration systems that were used in a recent pilot program and have proven to successfully remove GenX from water.
“We’ve listened to our impacted neighbors and want to address those concerns quickly and effectively,” said Brian Long, plant manager of Chemours Fayetteville Works. “We’re committed to making whole-house GAC filtration systems available now to impacted residents, at no cost to them, to ensure they can turn on any faucet and access drinking water throughout the entire house without concern.”
Results of pilot studies of the GAC filtration units requested by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality prove that GAC removes GenX and all similar compounds from drinking water, Long said. Based on the study data, Chemours is confident in extending the offer to affected residents while DEQ completes its review of the results.
“We’ve done multiple rounds of water sampling over consecutive months at the local pilot sites and are seeing tremendous results. The most recent data from each of the six pilot locations showed that all tested substances were at undetectable levels after carbon filtration in every pilot site,” Long said. “Based on the totality of the results we’ve seen, we are confident that the carbon is effectively removing all the compounds and represents the best solution. In fact, GenX concentrations are being removed to 100 times less than the 140 ng/L health goal.”
According to the company release, the local pilot studies were conducted over a two- and three-month period at six properties where well water tested above the state health goal of 140 ppt. State DEQ selected the six pilot sites and an independent laboratory has conducted sampling biweekly at each property to analyze the effectiveness of the filtration units over time in removing GenX and similar compounds. That locally collected data support previous available studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of granular activated carbon filtration in removing GenX and similar compounds.
The Robeson County Health Department recently tested 27 wells in northeast Robeson County for GenX with one testing above the state GenX limit and another far above the limit for GenX and a related chemical combined. Twenty-five of the wells tested positive for some amount of GenX.
The Robeson County wells are within three to four miles of the Chemours plant, which is located on N.C. 87 at the Cumberland/Bladen county line. The Lumber River basin reaches within one mile of the plant.
GenX or PFAS replaced an earlier generation chemical that resulted in a multi-million dollar settlement at a DuPont plant on the Ohio River. DuPont reformulated the chemical and later spun off the facilities into Chemours in 2015.
Managing Editor T.C. Hunter can be reached at 910-816-1974 or at [email protected] Staff writer Scott Bigelow and the Assciated Press contributed to this story.