Cumberland County is taking steps toward potential legal action against a company that makes a compound linked to the contamination of hundreds of wells in the southern part of the county.
The county’s Board of Commissioners voted unanimously at its meeting Monday to direct the county attorney to work on a contract to hire a law firm to represent the county. Commissioner Michael Boose was not at the meeting.
The law firm would represent the county if commissioners decide to take action against Chemours, a chemical company that runs a plant in Bladen County near the Cumberland County line. Chemours officials did not immediately respond Monday to an email seeking comment.
The county has scheduled a press conference for noon Monday to discuss the issue. Commissioner Jeannette Council said earlier that the county is willing to go to court over the issue.
Board Chairman Charles Evans said before the press conference that hiring a law firm was something the county “probably should’ve done a long time ago.”
County Attorney Rick Moorefield told commissioners at the meeting that he planned to have a contract for the commissioners to consider at their agenda session Thursday. Moorefield said during the meeting that the commissioners had directed him during a closed meeting to contact a law firm related to the contamination issue in southern Cumberland County.
He said he’s been in contact with the law firm of Crueger Dickinson about the issue for the past two years. He told the commissioners he recommended hiring the Wisconsin-based firm.
Moorefield said he also had conversations with North Carolina representatives of the Washington D.C.-based law firm, Baron & Budd, over the past couple months. He estimated that about 90% of environmental contamination cases across the country go through those two firms.
When reached Monday after the meeting, Boose said commissioners were considering whether to hire a firm that was already representing people in the county on the matter or going with someone from outside the state. Boose said he knew there were some people on board with Baron & Budd.
Moorefield said he expects to have legal documents related to hiring a firm by Monday afternoon.
North Carolina environmental regulators have been investigating the Chemours company since June 2017 when the Wilmington StarNews first reported that researchers had published a study the previous year showing they had found GenX and similar compounds in the river. GenX has since been discovered in hundreds of private wells near the plant.
Chemours manufacturers GenX at a facility in Bladen County off N.C. 87 near the Cumberland County line. The compound also is a byproduct of other processes at the plant.
Well owners near the facility have filed a lawsuit against Chemours. Residents who live in communities near the Cape Fear River downstream from the facility also are suing the company.
GenX has been linked to several forms of cancer in animal studies, but it isn’t known if the effect is the same in humans. The chemical and similar compounds are used to make nonstick cookware and other products.
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Staff writer Steve DeVane can be reached at [email protected] or 910-486-3572.
Government watchdog reporter Abby Church can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @abbschurch.