In a study released this January, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reports that Brunswick County, North Carolina had the highest rate of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) contamination of 44 water samples taken in 2019 across the United States. At 185.9 parts per trillion (ppt), the presence of PFAS in Brunswick County tap water far exceeds the 70 ppt standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). To learn more about the EWG study, click here.
Brunswick County is home to Chemours, a chemical company specializing in high performance polymers, including PFAS GenX and Nafion, that are used in the manufacturing of Teflon and other products that promote fire resistance and oil, stain, grease and water repellence. Previously a DuPont facility, the company was sued in 2017 by North Carolina residents along the Cape Fear River for dumping polluted water into the river for more than three decades, causing extensive environmental and health problems.
A family of man-made chemicals, PFAS are used in a host of industrial and commercial applications, such as non-stick cookware, fire-fighting agents and food packaging. Once discharged, these chemicals are very persistent in the environment and human body; exposure to PFAS increases the risk of cancer, harms the development of the fetus and reduces the effectiveness of vaccines. Biomonitoring studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the blood of nearly all Americans is contaminated with PFAS.
According to the suit, DuPont and Chemours have been dumping toxic waste since 1980 that includes GenX and Nafion, from their 2,000-acre Fayetteville Works plant into the Cape Fear River, which supplies drinking water to five North Carolina counties with a combined population of more than 770,000. According to the CDC, the affected counties have among the highest concentration of liver disease in the United States. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services says the rates of liver, pancreatic, testicular, and kidney cancer are higher than state averages in these five counties and DuPont’s own testing has shown that these chemicals can cause liver, pancreatic, testicular and kidney cancer, as well as fetal and birth defects.
The Brunswick sample was taken at Belleville Elementary School and, following the release of this report, bottled water was sent to the school and is available by request to all other schools in the county’s district. In addition, Chemours has been providing bottled water and filter systems to nearby residents whose wells show an increased level of PFAS. Odorless, tasteless and difficult to remove from the water supply, the most common methods for removing PFAS from drinking water are granular activated carbon, ion exchange, and reverse osmosis, as noted in the EWG study.
The complaint further alleges that DuPont overlooked the results of its own testing on GenX and illegally discharged the chemical into the river and lied to government regulators, claiming it was disposing of GenX safely when, in fact, it was not. As detailed in the lawsuit, the company reported to the US Environmental Protection Agency and state regulators that GenX was being sent to an off-site incinerator, a claim later proved to be false. Chemours admitted publicly to discharging GenX into the North Carolina public water supply in 2017; the lawsuit is ongoing.