The Gray’s Creek community in Cumberland County could receive federal funding to help address the GenX contamination of some residential wells.
The county Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed Monday to apply for North Carolina’s drinking water reserve and wastewater reserve grant.
The grant, which has two rounds of funding in the spring and fall, is financed through federal allocations to the state as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.
The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality will administer the funds and determine which applicants are awarded grant money.
If accepted, the county could receive up to $15 million to fund construction of a new central water distribution system in the Gray’s Creek area in southern Cumberland County, according to county documents.
The state’s grant is meant for at-risk water systems for which, among other purposes, the applicant’s intention is to connect residences in disadvantaged, underserved communities to a different water system.
According to water sampling from DEQ, some residential wells in Gray’s Creek are contaminated with GenX, a chemical substance produced in the nearby Chemours plant.
GenX is a trade name for one unregulated per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance, or PFAS, used in manufacturing nonstick coatings, among other purposes, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
Last month, Cumberland County filed a lawsuit against Chemours and its predecessor company, DuPont, for allegedly releasing millions of pounds of PFAS into the air above its Fayetteville Works facility in the decades following 1970, as reported by Carolina Public Press.
To determine how GenX affects the human body, more studies need to be done, according to DHHS. A small, limited study from the state agency suggests the substance, which DuPont started producing in 2009, may leave the human body quickly.
Previously, the county had allocated $10.5 million for providing an alternative water system for Gray’s Creek. A pending contract is in place with the Fayetteville Public Works Commission, but the board has not yet finalized and approved that agreement.
The county has until May 2 to apply for the state grant.
If DEQ doesn’t accept Cumberland County’s application, the department will automatically consider the application for the next round of funding in the fall.
The state could grant a low-interest loan to supplement funding if Cumberland County accepts, according to DEQ.
If funding is still available after both application rounds, DEQ will give more to accepted applicants in $5 million increments until all the money is exhausted. DEQ will reward applicants in increments in order of priority, which the agency will determine.
PHOTO CREDIT: Chemours' Fayetteville Works Plant Manager Brian Long, describes a newly installed mechanism for waste management and emissions reduction in late 2018. Melissa Sue Gerrits / Carolina Public Press
Cora’s Community Foundation is hosting “The Rollout,” an event that seeks to bring local and state politicians together with their constituents for a night of skating and fun.
“The Roll Out” will be held Tuesday, May 3, from 5:30 until 8:30 p.m. at Round-A-Bout Skating Center.
“This event is an open invitation to all candidates, no matter their affiliation, to come under one roof and interface with the public. We want people to be able to put a face to the names on the ballot,” said Rakeem “Keem” Jones, Cora’s Community Foundation’s co-founder and executive director.
“The Roll Out” is part of an initiative to engage more voters aged 18 to 35 to register 1000 new voters.
“I want to engage the area where people don’t go. We already know where the voters are, so I want to engage the young dude from Murchison Road who maybe doesn’t know the importance of voting in local elections or voting at all,” Jones told Up & Coming Weekly.
“Now that I know how voting affects us, I want to be a bridge between candidates and the community in a setting not so formal. It’s hard to skate in a suit and tie,” he joked.
There won’t be any speeches on the night of “The Roll Out,” nor any big political ideas or agendas. Candidates will have on nametags and are encouraged to meet and engage in fellowship with potential voters.
“So far, the response from candidates has been great,” Jones stated. Any candidate interested can participate in this event, but they must RSVP by April 22.
“I want people to take away knowledge of the people they’re voting for instead of voting for the sign they see the most. I want people to ask the questions that help them make a more informed decision,” Jones said.
Though Cora’s Community Foundation does not endorse any particular candidate, Jones speaks a great deal about accountability when it comes to politics.
“If you don’t know who you’re voting for, you don’t know who to hold accountable,” he said. “You don’t have to be rude, but you can be informed and push back where it matters. This event is about bringing power back to the people.”
“The Roll Out’s” mission is two-fold. Along with the candidate meet and greet, the event also hopes to bring some awareness to the rising violence in Fayetteville.
Co-founder of Heal the Ville, Demetria Murphy, will attend to spread her message of peace and healing for the city.
Jones, whose sister was murdered in 2019, feels strongly about this message and is always eager to partner with those who seek to uplift the community.
Getting his start in social activism by leading a protest on Scarborough Road in 2020, Jones felt compelled to do more for the city of Fayetteville.
Jones founded Cora’s Community Foundation in 2021 along with his fiance Grace Pelt, Alexis McLaurin and Shea and Christian Mosely.
Cora’s Community Foundation, named after Jones’ late mother, Cora Denise Jones, is a grassroots organization dedicated to addressing systemic inequalities and providing solutions that benefit everyone.
Since forming in May of last year, the Foundation has led or participated in several outreach projects that directly empower, support or celebrate the people of Fayetteville.
Teaming up with big names in the community, such as Grammy-nominated Fayetteville rapper, Morray, celebrity barber Vic Blends, and the Fayetteville Woodpeckers, to name a few, Cora’s Foundation has wasted little time in getting to work for its community, serving thousands thus far.
Jones is hopeful that the “The Roll Out” event will be equally beneficial to the community.
“Everyone likes to skate, and everyone likes to eat,” Jones said. “We want people to come out and have a good time, good food and a good vibe. We want people to get to know each other in a family-friendly atmosphere.”
Round-A-Bout Skating Center is located at Eutaw Shopping Center at 880 Elm St.
The Greater Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce is holding an expo and a luncheon with a question-and-answer session for military spouses on April 28, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event will take place at the Rudolph Jones Student Center at Fayetteville State University.
“The lunch and the expo is free to military spouses; male or female, veterans, members of the Gold Star community, anybody who is or has been married to someone in the military is welcome to come to this event for free,” said Claudia Black, events coordinator and sales specialist for the Chamber. “We are really trying to cater to the military spouses.”
Bronwen Pence, the wife of Fort Bragg Garrison commander Col. Scott Pence, will be moderating a question-and-answer session during the luncheon.
“We will have a panel of four ladies from throughout different branches of the military. The panel will be giving spouses some insight on what military life is like, anything they feel might be helpful to the spouses,” Black said.
The panel will include U.S. Army Special Operation Command-wife Kimberly Weimer and Garrison-wife Nikki Loehr.
The panel will also have a newer military spouse so that the question-and-answer session can be diverse, Black said. Paul Mitchell will be providing makeovers throughout the day for the spouses, and Five West Media will be on hand to create headshots for the attendees. Spouses can receive professional headshots digitally.
Breakout sessions will occur during the morning, the first being a mental wellness session. It will include office yoga and a discussion with a mental wellness doctor talking about stress and how to cope with spouses deploying.
The second breakout room of the day will be geared toward extreme couponing, a subject Black said was very well received during the last military spouse event.
An expo will also be available throughout the day. Thirty-eight vendor booths will be set up in the halls of FSU, and spouses are more than welcome to come and go. If spouses can’t attend the whole event, they can still come to the expo.
Guests walking through the expo will be able to get free gifts and talk to the vendors. Those who come to the luncheon will also receive a swag bag.
“We have a lot of great swag bags to give out,” Black said.
“We still have room for more table sponsors. A business can sponsor a table. They get one seat at the table, and then we put seven military spouses with them, so they get some one-on-one time with the spouses. The business can decorate the table with signage,” Black said.
“We really want these seats to be filled with military spouses. That’s the whole goal of this, for them to have a fun day and be pampered and hopefully learn some stuff.”
The expo and luncheon are free to military spouses, but Black said guests should register before the event. To register, visit www.faybiz.com.
In a lawsuit filed last month, Cumberland County alleges that Chemours and its predecessor companies have, over the past few decades, “secretly pumped millions of pounds of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances,” or PFAS, into the air above its Fayetteville Works facility in the southern part of the county.
Chemours, a spin-off of the chemical company DuPont, is the maker of GenX, one of the PFAS substances, among others, referred to in the lawsuit. Cumberland County alleges that Chemours and DuPont have been polluting the air, groundwater and surface water with PFAS for decades with a “blatant disregard” for residents in the county.
“As has been widely reported, defendants have used the environment surrounding theFayetteville Works facility as a dumping ground for hundreds of chemicals while assuring the EPA and state agencies that they were doing no such thing,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit alleges that from the early 1970s until 2015, when DuPont owned the Fayetteville Works site, the company “discharged millions of pounds of PFAS.”
Among these PFAS, the lawsuit alleges, was a chemical called C8, a substance previously produced by DuPont that may be related to health issues such as birth defects and cancer, when exposed at high levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
In 2005, DuPont agreed to pay $16.5 million in EPA fines for violating a requirement to “report to EPA substantial risk information about chemicals they manufacture, process or distribute in commerce,” according to the regulatory agency.
In 2009, DuPont began production of GenX as a replacement to phase out C8. While C8 has ceased, the production of GenX at the Fayetteville Works site continues, but there is limited information on the effect of GenX in humans, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
In an emailed statement to Carolina Public Press, Chemours said the company was disappointed by Cumberland’s decision to file a lawsuit.
“Our discussions with the county have included offering different alternative water systems to qualifying county properties,” the company said.
“We are also working collaboratively with the county and (the Fayetteville Public Works Commission) water to connect impacted Cumberland County residents to public water where feasible.”
In 2020, the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners voted to allocate $10.5 million in an effort to find an alternative water source for Gray’s Creek, an area south of Fayetteville where GenX was found in N.C. Department of Environmental Quality testing in some residential wells groundwater.
Last month, commissioners were expected to finalize an agreement in which Fayetteville PWC would provide water to the area, but County Manager Amy Cannon requested more time to work on the contract with PWC.
Since the Chemours facility is located off State Road 87, south of PWC’s water supply and further down the Cape Fear River, the GenX contamination attributed to Chemours does not affect the PWC, a spokesperson for the utility said.
The company has also supplied bottled water to students and faculty at Gray’s Creek Elementary, the company’s statement said.
On behalf of Cumberland County, the lawsuit against Chemours was filed by Crueger Dickinson LLC and Baron & Budd, P.C. Commissioners decided on these firms last June. According to the contract with the attorneys, the firms will receive 25% of any possible recovery for damages.
GenX effects on humans
GenX is used in products such as food packaging, nonstick coatings and firefighting foam, according to DHHS. The substance is part of a larger group of chemicals called PFAS, known as “forever chemicals” due to their durability and virtual inability to be broken down.
Exposure to high levels of some PFAS, according to the EPA, may lead to health issues in humans such as high blood pressure in pregnant women, developmental effects in children and increased risk of some cancers.
For GenX specifically, the link isn’t as clear. A study published by the EPA last year suggests that livers in animals may be sensitive to GenX. Other potential effects in animals include developmental issues and some cancers.
More studies in people are needed to determine the chemical’s effect on the human liver or other organs, according to DHHS.
A small, limited study from DHHS found that GenX may not stay in the human body for a long time. Chemours stands by the safety of the chemical, according to their website.
“If incidental exposure were to occur, it’s rapidly eliminated from the body,” the company claims. Continued research on the effects on humans is ongoing among scientists, including those at N.C. State University’s GenX exposure study.
The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality has been investigating allegations of GenX contamination from Chemours since June 2017 when the Wilmington StarNews reported that the chemical had been found in drinking water in the lower Cape Fear River.
In February 2019, DEQ filed a consent order against Chemours requiring them to address current and prevent future GenX contamination. Last year, DEQ found Chemours responsible for the contamination of groundwater and water supply wells in New Hanover County and possibly Pender, Columbus and Brunswick counties as well.
As a result, the state required Chemours to sample the drinking water in those downstream communities. On March 28, DEQ sent the company a letter requiring the company to expand their plan for sampling within the counties.
In their emailed statement, Chemours said they are continuing to comply with the state’s consent order.
“We are committed to continued engagement with Cumberland County as we implement the terms of the consent order agreement,” the company said.
With laser-eye focus, combat gear secured and tails wagging, eight military working dog teams launched into their real-world scenario based training lanes for one common purpose — to earn the title Military Working Dog Team of the Year.
The first Military Working Dog Team of the Year Competition was hosted March 24 by Fort Bragg’s Public Health Activity at the Medical Simulation Training Center on Fort Bragg. Each dog and handler team, specializing in either narcotics or explosive detection, competed in different tasks throughout the cloudy and drizzly day, challenging them on their knowledge and skills.
Two teams came out on top — Cpl. Taylor Reed and military working dog, Gert, for narcotics detection and Cpl. Jericho Arengo and military working dog, Serif, for explosives detection. Both teams are from Fort Bragg’s 550th Military Working Dog Detachment.
“I am still astounded being named the Fort Bragg Explosive MWD Team of the Year,” said Arengo. “There were a lot of great MWD teams competing for the title. It was not an easy competition.”
Arengo added that he and his canine partner worked well together, despite a few deficiencies that they will continue to work through as a team. However, he definitely made sure Serif got a lot of extra treats, belly rubs and free time to run around to be a dog as celebration.
“We’ve never had anything like this,” said Reed, Narcotics MWD Team of the Year. “We had the opportunity to practice hands-on (training) in a simulated and controlled environment on what we need to know how to do as dog handlers. The entire event was far above and beyond any training I could have dreamed of and it was executed perfectly. I feel very honored and prideful of our detachment.”
In total, three military installations across the country were represented: Fort Bragg, Fort Polk, Louisiana, and Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.
“It’s always nice to get camaraderie with our Army counterparts,” said Senior Airmen Devon Reynolds, whose canine partner is a 2-year-old German shepherd named Bruno from the 633rd Security Forces Squadron, JBLE. “We don’t get to work with them all that often, so when we do it’s a great opportunity to learn from each other and have a little fun while we’re at it.”
Each team was tested on their ability to detect the scent of either narcotics or explosives, how to administer first aid to both humans and dogs, how to use radio communications, how to operate in a chemical, biological, radioactive, nuclear and high yield explosives environment, and assemble/dissemble their weapon — all the while tending to and protecting their four-legged partner.
“I like how there’s so much variety while going through the training,” said Pfc. Gabriel Franco, 550th MWD Detachment. “You get a lot more experience and knowledge out of the competition so that we will be prepared if anything actually was to happen for real.”
When coordinating the competition, Capt. Heather Weaver, the officer in charge of the event and assigned to the Fort Bragg PHA, said they had direct backing from her command team and their soldiers worked very hard as the main support. The detection, bite and medical lanes had graders from 3rd Special Forces Group, First Year Graduate Veterinary Internship captains and 4th Security Forces Squadron. The 550th MWD Detachment provided detection aids, weapons and basic dog needs like trailers and water. All the units working together provided an Army, Air Force and Special Forces perspective to the scoring of each lane.
“We were looking for a competition to show us the most well-rounded MWD-handler team,” said Weaver. “These handlers also compete in the Expert Soldier Badge annually, but we wanted a way to tie in detection/bite work and daily tasks asked of these teams, Army Warrior Tasks, and medical training.”
Weaver added that she frequently provides training to the 550th MWD Detachment teams and 4th Security Forces Squadron from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, in Goldsboro, North Carolina.
“Instead of becoming confident and complacent in our training, we wanted to see what the handlers would do in real-life scenarios without my direct guidance,” Weaver said. “This allows us to gauge where the most frequent gaps of knowledge lie, and it also allows us to come up with a course of action to close those identified gaps.”
With the partnership between the different units, not only competing together but also supporting the event, many of the competitors agreed that they learned a lot.
“I learned things I didn’t even know I didn’t know,” laughed Pfc. Sheridan Reagin, 550th MWD Detachment. “I definitely put myself to the test. The most challenging was the medical lane. I went in thinking I knew a lot about first aid, but then I sort of panicked.”
The medical lane started off with a patrol walk through the woods when suddenly, simulated artillery rounds went off and there were human and dog causalities. The competitors rushed to their assigned lane and began to administer first aid to either the human or dog training aide.
“The dogs that we worked on, they’re so realistic,” added Reagin, looking at Max, her 5-year-old German shepherd partner. “I feel like if I get efficient on the training dog, I will be able to remain calm and perform first aid on my dog if needed. It was a different experience tending to the human casualty than the dog. There’s that added emotional connection with Max. He’s my buddy.”
The Advanced Canine Medical Trainer, K9 Diesel, is a full-body simulator used by handlers and veterinarians to practice medical aid. The fur covered robot dog whines, growls, breathes, bleeds, has a pulse, makes airway obstruction noises, has a real-time sensor that is customizable to different scenarios and reacts to treatments administered — it looks, reacts and sounds like a real dog.
Teaming up with the Fort Bragg Veterinarian Clinic across the parking lot from the 550th MWD Detachment has its perks for the local teams that train monthly on different medical scenarios and utilize the K9 Diesel quarterly.
“We are very fortunate to have (the vet clinic) so close to provide their expertise,” said Reagin. “We are our dog’s primary caregiver, we can’t just call for a medic. It’s up to (us) to apply first aid until (we) can get (them) to the vet.”
With both winners coming from Fort Bragg’s 550th MWD Detachment, the event solidified that the training is being retained and that handlers are able to apply their knowledge when challenged, said Weaver.
Arengo added that having both winners from the same unit correlates with the excellent training opportunities and trainers available at Fort Bragg.
“The 550th Military Working Dog Detachment holds their handlers above the standard,” Arengo said. “That says a lot about the detachment.”