BLADEN COUNTY — Chemours will pay North Carolina $12 million but will not admit culpability over the possible contamination of the chemical GenX in private wells and waterways, according to the terms of a proposed agreement with the state that has yet to be set in stone. The agreement, which was initiated on November 21 but has yet to be finalized and approved, would also include an extra $1 million to cover the cost of DEQ’s investigation. The proposed consent order was jointly developed by officials with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Cape Fear River Watch advocacy group and the Chemours Company. It outlines an agreement addressing the GenX-contaminated well water used by hundreds of thousands NC residents. The consent order will not be binding until a judge rules on its merits, DEQ spokesperson Megan Thorpe told the Sundial; and there will be no ruling until the public has a chance to say its part during a 30-day comment period, “which won’t [end] until December 21,” Thorpe said. “People directly affected by Chemours’ actions need an opportunity to comment on this extensive document,” Thorpe said. This feedback could potentially lead to changes in the language of the consent order. It can be made over phone, email or mail, as detailed at the DEQ website. GenX is a brand name for a technology used to create some high-performance nonstick chemical coatings for cookware and other products. GenX is one of many new polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), synthetic chemicals used in industrial settings since the 1940s. On November 8, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) published a review showing PFAS-linked birth defects were higher in the Cape Fear Region from 2003-2014 than in the rest of the state. (There are no national data for comparison.) “The review showed some central nervous system and cardiac defects were higher in one or more of the five counties [Bladen, Brunswick, Cumberland, New Hanover and Pender counties] examined compared with the state average,” the press release stated. However, “For reasons that are not well understood, the prevalence of brain anomalies varied substantially across North Carolina and higher prevalence was not limited to the lower Cape Fear region.” Caution in interpretation was urged because the number of birth defects is small, making generalizations more of a gamble. “Because birth defects can be caused by a complex mix of genetic, medical, behavioral and environmental factors, no conclusions regarding links between PFAS or other exposures and birth defects can be drawn from this analysis,” the review concluded. Nonetheless, the higher rate of defects is a fact. The agreement would require Chemours to extend some aid to businesses and homes whose water has been polluted by GenX and to take preventative measures against pollution. Members of the public may submit comment until December 21. The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, located in New Hanover County, has publicly announced concerns with the consent order, saying clean-up efforts do not extend far enough downstream. Chemours has been on the radar of state regulators since at least June of 2017, when the Wilmington Star-News broke a story that scientists had discovered GenX in the Cape Fear River and nearby wells that supplied water to the surrounding communities. The consent order, which has not yet been filed in the Bladen County Superior Court, does not see Chemours admit culpability. Instead, the company could avoid future litigation by paying the state $12 million in fines, providing a permanent and safe water source to affected homes and businesses, and installing thermal oxidizers to reduce hazardous air pollution, among other stipulations. The consent order says Chemours must also “continue to capture for off-site disposal all process wastewater from its operations at the Facility unless or until an NPDES [National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System] Permit is issued authorizing the discharge of process wastewater.” DEQ said in a statement that Chemours will also be responsible for drafting its own “corrective Action Plan that, once approved, is implemented and reduces PFAS contributions in groundwater along the Cape Fear River by at least 75 percent.” On November 14, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a toxicity assessment for GenX chemicals. The accompanying fact sheet claimed that 0.00008 kg/mg per day over the course of a lifetime is the threshold for adverse health effects. DEQ Assistant Secretary Sheila Holman told WHQR Public Radio that, as it is currently written, the order “will mean that no one in the community will be drinking water with measurable PFAS concentrations above 10 parts per trillion.”