Tracking GenX: Concentration level trends and what you need to k - WECT TV6-WECT.com:News, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Tracking GenX: Concentration level trends and what you need to know

State regulators collecting samples at CFPUA's Sweeney Water Treatment Plant. (Source: WECT) State regulators collecting samples at CFPUA's Sweeney Water Treatment Plant. (Source: WECT)
SOUTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) -

State officials have set a health goal for exposure to GenX in drinking water at 140 parts per trillion (ppt) -- more than 500 times lower than the state’s preliminary assessment issued in early June of 70,909 ppt.

Although testing of initial samples taken in mid-June indicated levels several times higher than 140 ppt in finished water in New Hanover, Brunswick, and Pender counties, testing of samples taken at later dates show concentrations of GenX are trending downward.

The data compiled below contains the results of state-initiated testing and independent testing by local water systems. All figures are in parts per trillion. These tables will be updated as results from additional testing are released.

NC Department of Environmental Quality 6/19 6/22 6/26 6/29 7/3 7/6 7/12 7/13 7/17 7/20 7/24 7/27
Chemours outfall 002 39,000 (TA); 21,760 (EPA) 19,000 (TA); 15,250 (EPA) 30,000 (TA); 21,530 (EPA) 3,300 (TA); 2,430 (EPA) 830 (TA); 713 (EPA) 150 (TA)
Bladen Buffs Finished 790 (TA) 76 (TA) 190 (TA) 95 (TA) 76 (TA); 59 (EPA) 35 (TA)
Smithfield Foods Well Field <10 (TA) <10 (TA) <10 (TA) <10 (TA) <10 (TA); <10 (EPA) <10 (TA)
International Paper Finished 690 (TA); 523 (EPA) 140 (TA); 111 (EPA) 110 (TA); 80 (EPA) 31 (TA); 17 (EPA) 38 (TA); 34 (EPA) 49 (TA)
NW Brunswick WTP Finished 910 (TA); 695 (EPA) 51 (TA); 52 (EPA) 150 (TA); 125 (EPA) 110 (TA); 51 (EPA) 83 (TA); 69 (EPA) 61 (TA)
Pender Co. 421 WTP Finished 340 (TA); 269 (EPA) 160 (TA); 112 (EPA) 81 (TA); 68 (EPA) 100 (TA); 75 (EPA) 120 (TA); 100 (EPA) 76 (TA)
LCFWSA Raw 830 (TA); 629 (EPA) 67 (TA); 72 (EPA) 150 (TA); 119 (EPA) 130 (TA); 88 (EPA) 67 (TA); 57 (EPA) 47 (TA)
CFPUA Sweeney Finished 1,100 (TA); 726 (EPA) 110 (TA); 100 (EPA) 97 (TA); 87 (EPA) 110 (TA); 81 (EPA) 120 (TA); 95 (EPA) 63 (TA)
CFPUA - ASR Well 820 (TA); 588 (EPA) 400 (TA); 336 (EPA) 190 (TA); 148 (EPA) 120 (TA); 84 (EPA) 120 (TA); 94 (EPA) 86 (TA)
Wrightsville Beach Well No. 11 26 (TA); 27 (EPA) 24 (TA); 28 (EPA) 28 (TA); 24 (EPA) 29 (TA); <10 (EPA) 44 (TA); 37 (EPA)

*Samples were analyzed at Test America (TA), a lab in Colorado under contract to Chemours, and at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lab in Research Triangle Park.

Cape Fear Public Utility Authority 6/26 6/28 6/30 7/3 7/5 7/7 7/10 7/12 7/14 7/15 7/16 7/17 7/18 7/19 7/20
Sweeney Finished 156 120 89.5 55.4 87.4 132 145 122 113 127 250 286 185 137 115
7/21 7/22 7/23 7/24 7/25 7/26 7/27 8/1 8/2 8/3 8/4 8/5 8/6 8/7
88.8 67.6 62.1 67.7 134 94 67 42.3 40.5 39.3 39.4 40.5 38.7 39.2

*CFPUA's independent samples were analyzed at Eurofins.

Brunswick County 6/27 6/29 7/6 7/13 7/27
Northwest Finished 32.8 87.1 65.2 35
211 Water Treatment Plant 0
H2GO
Finished 66.5

*Brunswick County's samples were taken to a different laboratory than that used by DEQ staff. H2GO's samples were analyzed by Wisconsin-based Northern Lakes.

According to town leaders in Kure Beach, GenX was found at 5.2 ppt in a water sample. Carolina Beach officials said no GenX was detected in samples taken from wells used for the town's water supply. 

GenX

GenX (perfluoro-2-propoxypropanoic acid) is one of seven “novel” PFECAs (perfluoroalkyl ether carboxylic acids) found in the Cape Fear River and finished water at area water treatment plants, which currently cannot filter these unregulated compounds out.

DuPont, after being granted a consent order from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2009, introduced GenX to replace PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), commonly called C8, which was a key ingredient in Teflon. GenX was advertised as having a “more favorable toxicological profile” and easier for humans to eliminate than PFOA, which has been linked to cancer and other ailments.

PFOA/C8

PFOA was used by DuPont as a key ingredient in Teflon, until legal trouble led the company to agree to phase the chemical out.

In 2005, DuPont agreed to pay $10.25 million -- the then-largest civil administrative penalty the EPA had ever obtained -- to settle violations consisting of “multiple failures to report information to EPA about substantial risk of injury to human health or the environment that DuPont obtained about PFOA from as early as 1981 and as recently as 2004.” As part of the settlement, DuPont also committed to $6.25 million for Supplemental Environmental Projects. In 2006, DuPont agreed to take part in the EPA’s PFOA Stewardship Program, committing the company to eliminate PFOA from emissions and products by 2015.

PFOA contamination in the Mid-Ohio Valley led to a massive class-action lawsuit against DuPont in the early 2000s. The case was settled in February 2017 for $670.7 million, with DuPont and Chemours paying half of the amount. Both companies denied any wrongdoing.  

In 2016, the EPA set the drinking water health advisory level for PFOA to 70 parts per trillion. The EPA’s health advisories are non-enforceable and non-regulatory.

The Chemours Co.

Formed from DuPont’s “Performance Chemicals” division in 2015, Chemours owns the Fayetteville Works manufacturing site, which is located along the Cape Fear River on the Bladen-Cumberland county line. Chemours, DuPont and Kuraray America all operate at the Fayetteville Works site.

How GenX and other PFECAs are getting in the water

Although Chemours manufactures GenX at its Fayetteville Works site, formerly operated by DuPont, company officials said the GenX found in the river was likely an unintended byproduct of a vinyl ether process at another location on the site.

As part of the EPA’s 2009 consent order, Chemours is required to “recover and capture (destroy) or recycle” GenX from all the process wastewater effluent streams and air emissions at an overall efficiency of 99 percent. The consent order did not, however, require the company to capture the chemical when discharged as a byproduct from a separate process.

It is unclear how exactly the six other PFECAs are getting into the water, however Dr. Mark Strynar, a co-author of a 2016 study on the unregulated chemicals, said the compounds do not exist upstream of the Chemours outfall 002, and appear to be co-occurring contaminants, indicating they come from a common source.

How long GenX has been in the water

In a closed meeting with local and state officials on June 15, Chemours officials revealed GenX had been discharged from the plant, formerly operated by DuPont, since 1980.

In 2012, researchers detected the chemical in the Cape Fear River. Another team measuring for the compound in 2013-14 found an average concentration of 631 ppt.

Quantity of other PFECAs

Researchers measuring for fluorochemicals in the Cape Fear River in 2013-14 found three of the six other PFECAs, which are structurally similar to GenX, had peak area counts two to 113 times greater than GenX, which could translate to higher concentrations. Researchers were unable to determine actual concentrations for these compounds due to no authentic chemical standard.

State and local officials are working determine a way to test for concentration levels of these other compounds.

State health goal

In a memo issued June 12, the NC Department of Health and Human Services released a preliminary health protective level of 70,909 ppt for GenX, stating existing research on the chemical indicated it is “expected to pose a low risk to human health.”

A month later, the state released a revised health goal of 140 ppt, stating it is not a boundary line between a “safe” and “dangerous” level, but it is “expected to be the most conservative and health protective for non-cancer effects in bottle-fed infants, pregnant women, lactating women, children and adults.”

The health standard was lowered, DHHS said, for a number of reasons. First, the department identified a different set of animal studies to use as a starting point for the assessment, lowering the level ten-fold. Since the new starting point was based on intermediate health effects rather than long-term conditions, the standard was lowered another ten-fold. Finally, due to a lack of information about GenX, the department implemented an EPA assumption that only 20 percent of a person’s exposure comes from drinking water, lowering the level another five-fold. The health goal is a non-regulatory, non-enforceable level of contamination below which no adverse health effects would be expected over a lifetime of exposure.

In a frequently asked questions document compiled in response to the revised health goal, DHHS said it would not make “blanket recommendations” about water use if levels in municipal water are above 140 ppt, but would continue to work with local officials and water providers.

Currently, there are no studies in humans on cancer related to GenX, however, one animal study, filed by DuPont under Section 8 (e) of the Toxic Substances Control Act, showed an increase in certain cancers.

What’s being done

Both the NC Department of Environmental Quality and EPA are investigating the matter, including collecting water samples from the Cape Fear River for testing -- a step Chemours agreed to fund. The focus of the EPA’s investigation will be to determine if Chemours is in compliance with the federal consent order, which requires they control releases to the environment, according to an EPA spokesperson.

Several local water systems are also performing independent testing of water samples taken from raw intakes and finished water.

Though initially not committing to a zero percent discharge requested by local officials, Chemours announced on June 20 that it would take steps June 21 to “capture, remove, and safely dispose of wastewater” containing GenX. State regulators confirmed June 27 Chemours was preventing wastewater containing GenX from entering the Cape Fear River.

On July 12 however, DEQ confirmed additional sources of GenX were still being discharged into the Cape Fear River from the Chemours industrial complex, but confirmed the next day those additional sources had been stopped. It is unclear if any of the new steps being taken by Chemours prevent the six other PFECAs from entering the river.

Cape Fear Public Utility Authority has contracted with an engineering firm to determine potential treatment alternatives to remove GenX from water treated at the company’s Sweeney plant.

NC Attorney General Josh Stein launched an investigation on July 21 to determine if Chemours used deceptive trade or marketing practices in its marketing of GenX. An "investigative demand" was issued, requiring Chemours produce documents related to GenX's safety, how it compares to older chemicals and its health risks. 

On July 24, Governor Roy Cooper outlined several steps the state will take to address the situation, including: denying Chemours request to renew its discharge permit to allow any discharging of GenX into the Cape Fear River, directing the State Bureau of Investigation's Diversion and Environmental Crimes Unit to assess whether a criminal investigation is warranted, working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to perform a public health assessment to review any long-term health effects of GenX, and requesting the EPA review the federal consent order allowing Chemours to discharge the chemical as a byproduct, as well as moving "swiftly" to set regulatory health standards for GenX.

The U.S Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina issued a subpoena to DEQ on July 28, requesting the state agency provide records and information related to a federal investigation into Chemours' permit to discharge GenX into the Cape Fear River. 

On Aug. 3, CFPUA announced it intends to sue Chemours and DuPont in federal court to enforce the requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). "Unauthorized discharges of GenX Pollutants by Chemours and DuPont are causing direct violations of North Carolina water quality standards adopted and enforced pursuant to the CWA," CFPUA said in a release. 

In response to the state's investigation into the compound GenX, Cooper announced on Aug. 8 a request for nearly $2.6 million to add resources to the DEQ and DHHS. State senators responded a day later questioning the necessity of the request, and asked Cooper answer 21 questions to justify the spending. 

Terms:

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) - Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are a class of man-made chemicals, including PFOA/C8, GenX and other PFECAs, not naturally found in the environment. PFASs have been widely used to make products more stain-resistant, waterproof and/or nonstick.

Perfluoroalkyl ether carboxylic acids (PFECAs) - Perfluoroalkyl ether carboxylic acids are fluorinated alternatives to long-chain PFASs, such as PFOA/C8 and PFOS. In sampling of the Cape Fear River, researchers found a total of seven PFECAs, one being GenX, which was identifiable due to its use as a PFOA alternative.

Parts per trillion (ppt) - Also described as nanograms per liter, for perspective, 140 ppt would be a concentration of $140 out of $1 trillion.

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