It’s the biggest question since news first broke of unregulated chemicals being found in the Cape Fear River: is my water safe to drink? WECT has learned one water company is now considering advising its customers to avoid drinking the water.
Brunswick Regional Water & Sewer H2GO drafted a precautionary water advisory to its customers in response to GenX, a replacement chemical for a key ingredient in Teflon linked to cancer, and other unregulated chemicals being found in the Cape Fear River. After consulting with leaders in New Hanover County and at the state level, H2GO has apparently agreed to hold off on issuing the advisory.
While little is known of GenX's impact on human health, lab tests performed on rats indicated the chemical could cause health problems similar to its predecessor chemical. Even less is known of the six other structurally similar chemicals, which are believed to be at higher concentrations in the Cape Fear River than GenX.
Researchers measuring for these “novel” contaminants in 2013-14 found GenX and structurally similar chemicals in the Cape Fear River, along with the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority public water supply, which cannot currently filter these unregulated chemicals out. H2GO receives its water from Brunswick County Public Utilities, which has not been tested for the chemicals, but gets its drinking water from the river.
The proposed advisory, which was sent in an email sent to Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, suggested the following groups of H2GO’s customers not drink or ingest tap water:
INFANTS, TODDLERS, YOUNG CHILDREN, PREGNANT WOMEN, WOMEN AND MEN OF REPRODUCTIVE AGE
It is recommended that, if possible, you find an alternative source of water, bottled or distilled, for drinking, cooking, washing vegetables, brushing teeth, and making ice. Bathing, showering, and washing clothes and dishes with tape water are OK. At this time, we cannot recommend a home filter or under-sink purification system that has been proven to effectively remove GenX and other PFECA contaminants. Boiling water will not remove these contaminants.
In the advisory, H2GO Executive Director Bob Walker said while this advisory may be alarming, the water company “is not hitting the ‘panic button’ on the situation.”
“When it comes to your health and welfare, however, I prefer to err on the side of caution,” Walker added.
In an email sent Friday to local and state officials, Jim Flechtner, executive director for CFPUA, said he was “concerned” that while H2GO suggested it was not hitting the panic button, “that will be the practical effect of the (advisory).”
Flechtner continued by citing an NC Department of Health and Human Services statement that GenX levels detected in the Cape Fear River “would be expected to pose a low risk to human health.”
On a call held Monday between H2GO, CFPUA, and state and local officials, H2GO agreed to hold off on sending its advisory, a New Hanover County spokesperson wrote in an email.
“The agreement is to wait for state analyzed data to come in and to have a unified message on the risk developed in collaboration with the state and all the local water utilities,” the spokesperson said. “The analysis is expected later this week.”
When reached for comment Tuesday, Walker said, "(H2Go is) still working with DHHS on revised risk assessment and a revision on that public water advisory."
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