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Posted on: October 9, 2019

Knappe: PFAS levels in Cape Fear River likely about 130,000 ppt before 2017

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A soon-to-be-published research paper reports that analysis of a 2015 water sample from the Cape Fear indicated a concentration of total PFAS of 130,000 parts per trillion (ppt), Dr. Detlef Knappe, a professor at N.C. State University, wrote in an email to state regulators and CFPUA.

“We characterized for the first time archived samples from 2014 and 2015 using an expanded suite of fluoroether standards,” Dr. Knappe wrote in summarizing paper’s key findings. “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 sent the email Monday evening to staff at the North Carolina departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services and to Jim Flechtner, CFPUA executive director. The paper’s authors include researchers from N.C. State and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Dr. Knappe stated the paper had been accepted for publication in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

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’ privilege to discharge into the river in 2017 and pressed the company to institute measures to curb its air emissions, which have been tied by regulators to extensive groundwater contamination.

Those and other actions by state regulators have reduced levels of PFAS in the river. Even so, CFPUA consistently detects Chemours’ PFAS in water it withdraws from the Cape Fear. The most recent test results (from water sampled September 9) indicated a total PFAS concentration of 377 ppt in raw (unfinished) water. Regulators have stated that highly contaminated groundwater at the Fayetteville Works could be migrating to the river. Researchers also believe PFAS likely is in river sediment downstream from the plant.

CFPUA has devoted significant resources to quantify and address the effects Chemours’ and DuPont’s PFAS releases on our community. We monitor PFAS concentrations in raw and finished water at Sweeney Water Treatment Plant and groundwater at our wells in New Hanover County. We conducted a pilot study to identify the best long-term solution to enhance treatment at Sweeney to reduce PFAS. To date, CFPUA and its ratepayers have borne about $8 million in costs related to Chemours’ and DuPont’s decades of discharges.

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. We have filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to force the companies to take responsibility.


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