“A well in the Bayfield subdivision on the outskirts of Fayetteville has tested positive for one type of forever chemical known as PMPA. At least two other nearby wells are also tainted, and more well testing is coming. Chemours is providing bottled water to the homes – and filtration systems at some point – as required by a consent order.
Marianne Ashworth fights to hold back tears. She has just learned that the well water at her Cumberland County home contains a high level of a forever chemical called PMPA.
Ashworth bought the little ranch-style house in the Bayfield subdivision seven years ago and has since paid it off. Her 17-year-old daughter grew up here, in this house near the outskirts of Fayetteville, which is now the cause of Ashworth’s tears.
She wonders whether her daughter’s persistent skin rashes could have been caused by the PMPA, one of thousands of synthetic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances collectively known as PFAS.
Ashworth also wonders if she, her daughter, or her 3-year-old son could face more health problems down the road. PFAS are known to cause cancer in laboratory animals. They have also been associated with a host of illnesses in humans: Among them, liver, kidney and thyroid diseases, preeclampsia, low birth weight, colitis, and high cholesterol. They’re known as ‘forever chemicals’ because it takes so long for them to break down, if they ever do.
Ashworth wonders whether she should sell her house, or if she even could. Who’d buy a house with a contaminated well? she asks.
‘I don’t know if I want to live here anymore,’ she said. “It’s just all of these things going through my head.”
Thousands of wells tainted
Ashworth’s fears have become a common refrain in the southern reaches of Cumberland County, as well as areas of Bladen and Robeson counties that are near the Chemours Fayetteville Works chemical plant.
In mid-August, a map from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality shows 5,318 homes qualified for filtration systems to remove high levels of PFAS from their drinking water. That number has grown by 1,443 in a year.
Every time Chemours or the DEQ finds a well contaminated with PFAS, the company is required under a 2019 consent order to extend its testing boundaries by another quarter of a mile. Those boundaries just keep expanding.
Ashworth’s home is near the farthest reaches of known contamination sites, about 18 miles from Chemours. The DEQ says some wells even a little farther away from the plant have exceeded PFAS limits spelled out in the consent order.
Under the order, Chemours is required to install filtration systems whenever a well tests above 10 parts per trillion for a single PFAS or over 70 parts per trillion for a combination of them. The order also requires Chemours to provide public water or whole-house filtration systems to homes, schools and businesses that test above 140 parts per trillion for GenX, a ubiquitous PFAS compound found near the plant.
Ashworth provides a document that shows testing of her well water found PMPA at 16 parts per trillion. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says there is inadequate information to classify PMPA as a likely carcinogen but adds that more testing is needed.
Within about a half mile from Ashworth’s home, two other houses — both on Baywood Road — have tested positive for excessive levels of PFAS, according to the DEQ. Other residents in the area told NC Health News that they were about to get their wells tested, and Ashworth said she knows of at least one other home in the Bayfield subdivision with PFAS well contamination.
While it appears that the number of homes with contaminated wells being discovered has slowed — only 146 have been found since December — the distance of well contamination beyond Chemours’ borders continues to increase. Testing has also slowed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020.”