CHEMOURS KEPT GEN-X DANGER FROM PUBLIC
Chemours regards itself “as a new company”, but its Fayetteville Works site has been manufacturing a wide range of DuPont products along the Cape Fear River in Cumberland and Bladen Counties for 46 years, since production began in 1971.
GenX, the new Teflon ingredient, was promoted as a less dangerous and safer for human health than its chemical predecessors, but had been dispersed into the river since 1980.
For four decades, DuPont Chemours never informed Fayetteville or Wilmington residents or neighboring communities of the dangers of GenX and other chemicals in the wastewater discharging on the river. Part of the problem had been the lack of a health safety standard for GenX and its chemical cousins.
“The Chemours Company (Chemours) (NYSE: CC) today announced that it will capture, remove, and safely dispose of wastewater that contains the byproduct GenX generated from Fluormonomers production at its manufacturing plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Trace GenX amounts in the Cape Fear River to date have been well below the health screening level announced by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services on June 12, 2017, and the company continues to believe that emissions from its Fayetteville facility have not impacted the safety of drinking water. However, Chemours will take these additional steps, embracing its role as a significant employer and member of the community.”
The Department of Health, working on information provided by the company, set a health protective level of 70,909 parts per trillion for GenX, which was more than 100 times greater than the average concentration (631 parts per trillion) found in the Cape Fear River samples taken in 2013-14, keeping it well under any kind of enforcement. Officials stated 631 ppt “would be expected to pose a low risk to human health.”
CHEMOURS “NOT COMMITTED” TO ZERO GENX
The company refused to end GenX discharge into the river in a June 15 statement, eight days after the crisis began.
“In fact, we capture 100 percent of GenX so the likely question on your minds would be, ‘If you capture 100 percent of GenX, how’s GenX getting in the river?,’” said Kathy O’Keefe, product sustainability director for Chemours.
“It’s a different production unit on site where [GenX] is an unintended byproduct,” she said in a meeting with local and state officials.
Chemours said they didn’t emit any GenX from the Fayetteville site, insisting the company was abiding by a 2009 EPA consent order that required 99 percent control or capture of the material. The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chairman, Woody White, supported that saying “Chemours plans to continue to discharge GenX and is permitted to do so.”
While residents were outraged by the notion that they had been drinking GenX and other toxic chemicals for more than 35 years, questioning its health impact on adults, children and grandchildren; local officials expected additional testing and an analysis of few data from Chemours, which essentially had been alleging that nothing was wrong and there was no reason for alarm.
Mayor Bill Saffo said “we have asked that Chemours bring this discharge to zero percent. They have not committed to do so as of yet”, he said in June 15.
Chemours’ alleged abatement technology installed in 2013 dropped levels of GenX from 631 to 96 parts-per-trillion.
The company wasn’t willing to suspend the discharges, not even until the situation was under control, but under pressure from public officials, revealed there was a system they were looking at that could make it possible in a month’s time. Why didn’t they have such system in place before and wasn’t the abatement technology enough?
Chemours believed “the GenX level in the drinking water coming from the Cape Fear River is safe and it does not pose any harm to human health. We have that belief; we’re confident in that belief. We have extensive health and safety data for GenX,” said O’Keefe.
The wording used by the company had other meanings when explained in news reports and by public officials in the context of federal and local regulations and permits. Industrial emissions are not the same as wastewater, “byproduct” takes another meaning in terms of environmental permits and official health safety limits set according to the manufacturer of the toxic pollutant is questionable.
GENX SUDDENLY WAS AN OLD CONTAMINANT
Mike Johnson, environmental manager for Chemours’ Fayetteville Works facility, said GenX is a perfluoro-2-propoxypropanoic acid (PFPrOPrA) that had been released as a byproduct of vinyl production in the same site since 1980. It was later patented and branded as GenX and became an important part of DuPont’s Teflon manufacturing process when the company was forced to substitute a chemical cousin (C8 or PFOA) due to health damage that came to light by class-action lawsuits, following independent research and finally the request to phase it out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Water samples collected in Wilmington and Fayetteville showed higher concentrations of GenX near the discharge point of the Chemours’ site. After a community meeting demanded urgent actions, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) began water sampling of the Cape Fear River and a EPA investigation was launched.
It was June 20, thirteen days into the crisis and after DEQ and EPA began their investigations that Chemours Co. changed its position and announced “it will capture, remove, and safely dispose of wastewater that contains the byproduct GenX generated from fluoromonomers production at its manufacturing plant in Fayetteville.”
Chemours still said “trace GenX amounts in the Cape Fear River to date have been well below the health screening level announced by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services on June 12, 2017, and the company continues to believe that emissions from its Fayetteville facility have not impacted the safety of drinking water.”
Health screening levels weren’t based on extensive prior independent scientific research, but one research done on lab rats and some inference from researchers. By then, GenX concentrations were found in the Aquifer Storage Recovery (ASR) system where the CFPUA stores treated water from the Seeney Water Treatment Plant. GenX began to appear in samples from other wells and communities.
After GenX decrease its concentration in the Cape Fear River, coinciding with Chemours stopping the discharges, the Department of Health lowered the threshold for the chemical in the drinking water, from 631 to 140 parts-per-trillion (ppt), which has been questioned as too high by scientists.
However, CFPUA Sweeney recorded 1,100 ppt of GenX on June 22, 2017, two days after Chemours said trace amounts in the river were well below the health screening level, which wasn’t true. Six other toxic compounds like GenX (perfluoroalkyl ether carboxylic acids or PFECAs) were not included in that report.
Even after officials assure the public on the safety of the drinking water, many questions still linger. How long had the population been exposed to GenX and other toxins; what health damage has it done, what to expect of life-long medical treatments?
Greg Jones Law is part of this community and cares deeply about this problem. Call us at 855-566-3752 or contact us online today to find out if you have a case against Chemours. We do not charge for initial consultations. If there is no recovery, you owe no legal fees. We’re here to help!