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EPA toxicity assessment finds GenX is more harmful than previously thought

Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 6:24 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - For years, we’ve known GenX, a chemical compound known as PFAS, is in the water supply for thousands of residents across the Cape Fear. However, Tuesday’s new report from the EPA states GenX is likely much more toxic than we previously thought.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s safe to drink something that I don’t know what it is,” said Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear.

Donovan says the report is more proof of how little we truly know about this chemical found in the Cape Fear River. It leaves more questions unanswered, like the safety of bathing or growing vegetables with the contaminated water. One thing she does know: it’s not safe to drink.

“Kids are about to go out trick-or-treating for Halloween and I certainly wouldn’t allow my children to [eat] mystery candy,” explained Donovan. “I’m most definitely not going to allow them to drink mystery chemicals in their water.”

The EPA’s toxicity assessment details a number of health effects animals experienced after too much GenX consumption. The chemical reportedly caused problems for the liver, kidneys, immune system and development of offspring. The EPA also noted an association with cancer.

“We’re working with the state to try to understand the implications of the EPA’s toxicity assessment,” said Vaughn Hagerty with Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA). “The EPA plans to have a health advisory for GenX by next spring.”

The newly released assessment is the first study since 2018. Back then, the reference dose was 0.00008. The most recent assessment has the reference dose at about 26 times lower at 0.000003 over the course of a person’s lifetime.

The latest tests at Sweeney Water Treatment Plant say Cape Fear customers’ drinking water contains 7.78 parts per trillion of GenX, but CFPUA hopes to change that soon.

“In 2019, we began construction on new granular activated carbon filters and those are under construction at the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant,” said Hagerty. “They’re expected to come online of June 2022 and they’ll be very effective at treating PFAS.”

Once online, the GAC filters are expected to filter out 99 percent of PFAS, reducing the GenX contamination to one part per trillion.

Chemours, the company responsible for dumping GenX into the Cape Fear River, released a statement in response to the findings, saying: “We are in the process of reviewing the significant body of technical information released today by the U.S. EPA relating to its toxicity assessment for ‘GenX chemicals’. We are unaware of data that would support the conclusions drawn by the agency. We’re reviewing the information for additional insight into the new review process used by the agency and the new data the agency utilized for the change from its 2018 draft assessment, including the application of revised uncertainty factors to reflect greater uncertainty even though the agency indicates there is additional data since the draft assessment.”

Despite the new findings in the EPA report, the DHHS does not plan to update its guidelines that currently state that GenX levels up to 140 parts per trillion in drinking water is safe to ingest. However, the new findings are an important part of the federal government’s plan to develop water health advisories and drinking water regulations.

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