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Federal Report Gains Attention From CFPUA, Law Firm On Local GenX Issue

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Jun 21, 2018
A new federal report suggests a reduced minimal risk for certain perfluoroalkyls compounds, a class of chemicals that includes GenX, and the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is now turning to the state for further guidance based on the report.

The draft perfluoroalkyls (PFAS) toxicological profile report released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), garnered attention from CFPUA as well as a law firm representing a proposed class-action lawsuit against The Chemours Co.

Chemours' operations at its Fayetteville Works site near the Cape Fear River in Bladen County, has been linked to the source of GenX and other related unregulated compounds found in the river and in treated drinking water of local residents.

Utility officials first responded to the report Wednesday evening, saying they were aware of it and were working to understand the findings and relevance to levels of the chemicals in the finished water of the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant.

The utility released further information about the report's findings Thursday afternoon, saying that the proposed revised minimum risk level reduces the minimum risk levels for PFOA and PFOS and establishes a new risk level for PFHxS and PFNA.

Those chemicals, as well as GenX and other PFAS, are not able to be filtered by current water treatment systems at utility’s water plant, which draws from the river, according to the utility.

CFPUA's board authorized staff in May to begin negotiating a design contract to install technology at the water treatment plant, that has "proven to be effective in reducing levels of per-fluorinated compounds (PFCs) in drinking water," the utility stated in the release.

The utility claims, however, that control is most effective through control at the site. 

“Chemours is attempting to influence the State to raise acceptable levels of PFCs in the environment while this federal report suggests they should be lower,” CFPUA executive director Jim Flechtner said in the release. “There needs to be a full understanding of how PFCs affect drinking water and public health before corporations put these pollutants in the River.”

The release goes on to call for additional action by federal and state regulators, citing the need for regulatory limits for discharges that account for all such chemicals, among other efforts.

Meanwhile, a law firm representing a proposed class-action lawsuit filed against The Chemours Co. said the draft toxicological report released by the ATSDR further affirms plaintiff's claims in the case.

Following the release of the report, attorney Ted Leopold, co-lead counsel in the case filed in federal court on behalf of North Carolina residents, issued a statement regarding the study. 
 
Leopold, of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, is representing several plaintiffs in the case alongside Susman Godfrey LLP.

On Thursday, Leopold said in an email that the firm believes the report’s scientific opinions on PFAS “support our position that GenX and other chemicals dumped by DuPont and Chemours into the Cape Fear River carry serious health risks to humans, even at low levels.”

“This report emphasizes the extreme risk that these chemicals present to the public,” Leopold said. “It confirms the numerous health risks of exposure to PFCs like GenX – and also suggests that we need to consider the cumulative effects of exposure to this family of chemicals ... ”

The law firm is now in the discovery process for its case, and through a federal judge's order, is now in the process of inspection and the taking of water samples at Chemours' facility. The discovery process at the site began Wednesday and will continue through Friday, Leopold said.

A federal judge granted a motion for expedited discovery last month that prompted the study at the site and affects the class action case, as well as two other lawsuits filed by CFPUA and Brunswick County.

Chemours did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the draft report or the attorney’s claims.

In May, the Wilmington, Delaware-based company announced plans to make an investment of $100 million into its Fayetteville Works facility in a long-term plan to reduce emissions of GenX and other related compounds.

That plan was written in a response to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality's (NCDEQ) 60-day notice to modify the company’s air quality permit. It's part of ongoing actions against the company by state regulators, which most recently included a draft proposed order for injunctive relief. 

The 30-page order, drafted by state officials and posted to its website for public review in June, includes a compliance schedule for reduced emissions of GenX-type compounds, along with a long list of other measures.

According to the order, GenX compounds fall within a family of chemicals "known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or 'PFAS.'”

While the revised PFAS draft profile by the ATSDR reduces the minimum risk for the four different unregulated compounds, the minimal risk level is not enforceable. The CFPUA stated it will be "contacting NCDEQ and NCDHHS for guidance on the new levels and their implications on drinking water."

ATSDR’s federal notice, “Availability of Draft Toxicological Profile: Perfluoroalkyls,” was also published Wednesday on the federal register. Beginning Thursday, the notice was made available for a 30-day comment period that ends July 23.
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