WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is still drafting a legal response to a proposed consent order concerning contaminated drinking water in our area, but plans to ask the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to require more protections for New Hanover County drinking water.
CFPUA Executive Director Jim Flechtner said the order addresses Chemours' ongoing PFAS releases and immediate health concerns for communities in Bladen County near Chemours' Fayetteville Works facility, but does not provide a solution for residents of New Hanover County who continue to be exposed to PFAS compounds at levels greater than 10 parts per trillion individually and 70 ppt combined.
“Our initial review gives us some pause in that there are some conditions that don’t seem to be as protective for our customers as we think they should be so we’ll be working with DEQ to hopefully get our comments incorporated into the final document,” Flechtner said. “One condition is that the people on private wells near the plant will be getting a higher level of water treatment, which is good to reduce the levels of these PFAS compounds, but it doesn’t provide the same treatment options for communities downstream such as Wilmington so we’ll be looking to get that included."
Attorney General Josh Stein weighed in on the proposed consent order via Skype Tuesday. Stein called the proposed agreement a “win for public health," but did say Wilmington may have more claims against Chemours.
“If the city had to expend more money to upgrade their equipment to be able to filter out certain chemicals and they did that because of Chemours, then they have a basis in action and a valid claim that they can bring against the company," the attorney general said. "From the state’s perspective, our mandate is to make sure there’s no violation of the law, to make sure there’s no illegal discharge and to hold them accountable.”
Under the proposed order, private well users with levels such as those mentioned above would be offered under the sink reverse osmosis systems at no cost. However, funding for additional water treatment will not be offered under the order to residents who receive water from the Cape Fear River.
CFPUA also said the proposed consent order does not address river sediment contamination.
"We know those sediments have PFAS compounds detected and are likely releasing them now over time. We think there should be some consideration or at least additional study of what happens to those sediments and what is the fate of that PFAS in the sediment,” Flechtner said.
According to the utility, scientists at UNCW have detected PFAS compounds in the sediment of the Cape Fear River and that sediments could possibly act as a continuing source of PFAS compounds in the river even after Chemours installs new control technology at its plant.
"That contamination may continue to affect the drinking water for New Hanover County until additional treatment technology can be installed at the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant," the CFPUA wrote.
According to CFPUA, the proposed consent order also doesn't address damages to groundwater in the county through the contamination of the Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) site.
Designed to supplement the water supply during periods of high demand, the ASR site is no longer viable for its original purpose after being contaminated with PFAS compounds.
The utility communicated its concerns about the site to NCDEQ and the NC Department of Health and Human Services. CFPUA said it has not received a response to its most recent request from DEQ Secretary Michael Regan.
“We think more work needs to be done to ensure the downstream communities such as Wilmington have a clean and reliable source of drinking water and this agreement doesn’t seem to address that as well as we’d like it to so we would expect that DEQ would add additional conditions into it to protect us as well,” Flechtner said. “I’d like to see some discussion about what our needs are and what we’re experiencing here and we would welcome the chance to have that dialogue with NCDEQ. We haven’t had that yet. We’re certainly here and available anytime they’d like to come talk to us or we’d drive up there as well.”
In February, the CFPUA board passed a resolution requesting DEQ stop all operations at the Chemours site involving emerging contaminants.
"CFPUA believes this should happen until Chemours has installed technology at the site that will capture air emissions and until we fully understand how PFAS compounds find their way into our water source," the release reads.
According to the release, the proposed consent order shouldn’t affect CFPUA’s ongoing lawsuit against Chemours and Dupont and the utility said CFPUA customers should not bear the cost of additional treatment associated with PFAS.