By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
NEW HANOVER CTY - The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA) announced Tuesday July 11th, they recieved the first set of test results from samples taken to measure the amount of the chemical called GenX in drinking water serving the City of Wilmington and unincorporated areas of New Hanover County.
The Wilmington Star News reported last month on the presence of the chemical in the Cape Fear River. The CFPUA in Wilmington, NC, draws water from the river and treats it before it enters the public water supply and is consumed by customers. GenX is a chemical used by the manufacturing company Chemours located in Fayetteville, NC and can have negative impacts on public health.
Following a meeting with local elected officials last month, Chemours announced Tuesday June 20th, that it will capture, remove, and safely dispose of wastewater that contains the by-product GenX generated from fluoromonomers production at its manufacturing plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), GenX is a chemical used in the manufacturing of fluoropolymer resins, which are used for nonstick coatings such as Teflon and other purposes.
GenX was created to replace the PFOA called C8 which led to a settlement by DuPont and Chemours of over $670 million dollars for a class action lawsuit originating in the Ohio Valley that focused on negative health impacts.
GenX is part of the perfluorinated family of compounds that includes the chemicals PFOS and PFOA. In 2009, GenX was developed as a replacement for PFOA thus limited health information is available for GenX. It's estimated that approximately 250,000 people are served by water drawn from the Cape Fear River and treated by CFPUA.
That does not include Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach. Some small areas served by CFPUA draw water from wells rather than water treated from the Cape Fear River.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), "The recent media reports on GenX in the Cape Fear River are associated with the paper written by Sun et al. This paper was published in November 2016. Media reports cite 631 ng/L concentrations of GenX detected in the Cape Fear River. This number is taken from the Sun et al. article based on data from 2013-2014. It is not known whether these levels reflect the current concentrations of GenX in the Cape Fear River. Limited health information is available for GenX. PFOA and PFOS (chemicals that are part of the same family of fluorinated compounds) were recently reviewed by the EPA and the most common effects observed in laboratory tests were kidney and testicular cancer, impaired fetal development, and effects on the liver, thyroid, and immune system. The EPA recently released a Health Advisory with recommendations for drinking water not to exceed 70 parts per trillion (70 ng/L) for PFOS and PFOA combined. There are no U.S. regulatory guideline levels for GenX. However, as part of the European chemical registration, a 2-year chronic toxicity and cancer study with rats was performed. They reported a Derived No Effect Level (DNEL) of 0.01 mg/kg bw/day. Based on U.S. risk assessment calculations, this corresponds to a concentration in drinking water of 70,909 ng/L of GenX- more than 100 times greater than the mean value of 631 ng/L detected in the Cape Fear River. Based upon these data, the GenX levels detected in 2013-2014 would be expected to pose a low risk to human health."
CFPUA issued a statement on July 11th explaining, "On June 26, 2017, Cape Fear Public Utility Authority began sampling raw and finished water at Sweeney Water Treatment Plant three days per week to test for current levels of the compound GenX.CFPUA received the first set of results this afternoon from Eurofins, a laboratory the utility has used for various testing services in the past. The samples, taken June 26 - July 5, indicate levels of GenX are below the current NCDHHS Derived No Effect Level of 70,909 ppt. Based upon discussions with DEQ and DHHS on Monday, DEQ anticipates having its first two weeks of sampling available for release to the public later this week and DHHS anticipates providing an updated health advisory for release to the public later this week or possibly early next week."
The statement explained, "Dr. Knappe’s study found GenX at levels of 631 parts per trillion (ppt) in the raw river water and at approximately 470 ppt in the finished water at Sweeney Water Treatment Plant. On June 26, 2017, five days after Chemours Co. stopped discharging the compound into the Cape Fear River, those numbers dropped to 149 ppt and 156 ppt, respectively. Just one week later, on July 3, 2017, numbers in the finished water had dropped to 55.4 ppt. It is important to note that water takes around 15 hours to go through the treatment process at the plant—which means finished water samples can often be older than the raw water samples. This is why levels of GenX can be higher in finished water samples than in raw water samples. The initial data show that current levels of GenX in the Cape Fear River are below what has been found in the past. CFPUA will continue three-day-a-week testing until levels of GenX remain consistently low, and will continue to update the public as new results come in. It is important these initial results be reviewed in the proper context with future test results collected by CFPUA, as well as results by NCDEQ so well-informed conclusions can be reached. We will continue to release testing data as it becomes available."
State agency receives first GenX water sample data and begins analysis
Officials with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality received the first sets of water quality data from the Test America lab in Colorado on Monday and Tuesday. The data comes from water samples collected June 19-29 near the Chemours facility in Fayetteville that produces GenX, and downstream at water treatment facilities in the Fayetteville and Wilmington areas.
The water sample collection and data analysis are part of an ongoing investigation by DEQ and DHHS into the presence of GenX in the Cape Fear River.
Staff in DEQ started Monday conducting a quality assurance review of the data and will send their final data review later this week to public health experts in the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. The public health staff with DHHS are reviewing all available health data to better understand the health risks associated with GenX.
Once their analyses are completed, both agencies will share the results and updated health risk assessments in a news release and online at the state’s web page devoted to GenX, https://deq.nc.gov/news/hot-topics/genx-investigation
“Our goal is to make the public aware of our findings as soon as possible,” said Michael Regan, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. “We will continue to report the results of the analyses in the coming days and weeks. Taking multiple samples will give the most accurate data, and enable everyone to better understand how much GenX was in the river during sampling and any potential health impacts it might have.”
Mandy Cohen, secretary for DHHS, said public health staff are working with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and academic researchers to better understand any health risks associated with GenX.
“There is limited information available about the health effects of GenX and related chemicals, but we are working every day with our federal partners and academic researchers to better understand everything we can about this unregulated compound,” Cohen said. “Our health risk assessments are routinely updated as new information about GenX becomes available.”
As part of the ongoing investigation, staff with DEQ started June 19 collecting the water samples to test for levels of GenX in the river. Officials have collected water samples in the same 12 locations near Fayetteville and Wilmington and are completing the fourth round of tests this week. A 13th location upstream of the Chemours facility – the Hoffer Water Treatment Plant – was added to the sampling regimen last week and this week. State officials will base future sampling decisions on the results. Separate samples were sent for analysis to two labs capable of detecting GenX at low concentrations: Test America and the EPA’s lab in the Research Triangle Park. Both labs are continuing to receive and analyze data from the water samples collected and will make that data available to state officials during the coming days and weeks.