The federal government plans to take action to help public health officials determine the risks associated with a compound that has contaminated hundreds of wells around a Bladen County chemical plant and drinking water in Wilmington and in other communities downstream of the installation.
The Environmental Protection Agency will release a toxicity assessment “in the next few days” for GenX, EPA administrator Michael S. Regan said Monday at an event in Raleigh. The announcement was part of a larger movement by the EPA to develop a âstrategic roadmapâ on how to deal with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
GenX belongs to the family of PFAS compounds, which are sometimes referred to as âeternal chemicalsâ because they do not break down easily.
State officials have been investigating GenX since 2017, when the Wilmington Star-News reported that researchers found the chemical and similar compounds in the Cape Fear River, downstream from the Chemours plant. The company has accepted a consent order that requires it to dramatically reduce the amount of GenX it emits into the air.
The Chemours plant in Bladen County manufactures GenX. The compound is also a by-product of other processes out there.
GenX and similar compounds have been found in hundreds of wells around the Chemours facility, located off NC 87 near the Cumberland County line.
Lisa Randall, a spokeswoman for Chemours, said in a statement that company officials have reviewed the EPA’s roadmap and praised the agency for “compiling a comprehensive and scientific approach.”
âAlthough more details are needed for many initiatives, Chemours supports the framework approach and looks forward to engaging in the process in the future,â she said. “We believe that the voluntary stewardship program recommended by the agency could help make significant progress in reducing emissions as many of the initiatives progress through the regulatory process.”
Following:North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to provide update on PFAS contamination
Regan said Monday that the toxicity assessment would help ensure other communities do not have to endure what those in North Carolina have gone through.
Assessment to help health officials
A statement released by EPA officials said the assessment “can be used to develop health advisories that will help communities make informed decisions to better protect human health and ecological well-being.”
The EPA plan says it will release assessments on hexafluoropropylene oxide dimeric acid and its ammonium salt, which the plan calls “GenX chemicals.” The compounds have been found in surface water, groundwater, drinking water, rainwater and air emissions, and are known to impact human health and ecosystems, he says.
“Scientists have observed liver and kidney toxicity, immune effects, hematological effects, reproductive and developmental effects, and cancer in animals exposed to GenX chemicals,” the EPA plan states. âPerforming a toxicity assessment of GenX is essential to better understand its effects on people and the environment. EPA can use this information to develop health advisories that will help communities make informed decisions to better protect human health and ecological well-being. “
Chemours officials said the amount of GenX in the wells around the plant is not harmful.
Scott Faber is senior vice president of government affairs on the nonprofit environmental task force. He said he would be interested to see if the toxicity assessment leads the EPA to set a lifetime health advisory for GenX.
EPA has issued such advisories for two other PFAS compounds. These are perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA, and perfluorooctane sulfonate, PFOS.
PFOA, also known as C8, was manufactured at the Bladen County facility when it was owned by DuPont. Chemours is a spin-off from DuPont.
The EPA could go further by setting mandatory drinking water standards for PFAS, Faber said. North Carolina could also set its own standards like some other states have, he said.
âThis is possibly the fastest way to get GenX out of drinking water,â he said.
The EPA plan also states that toxicity assessments will be published for five other PFAS compounds – PFBA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA and PFDA.
Three of these compounds – PFHxA, PFNA, and PFDA – and PFOS were found in moss in a Cumberland County stream by state regulators this year. A spokeswoman for Chemours said none of these compounds are associated with plant processes.
Following:State investigates the origins of toxic foam in Cumberland that contains high levels of PFAS chemicals
The EPA plan says the agency plans to issue health advisories for GenX and another PFAS compound called PFBS next year. The EPA released a toxicity assessment of PFBS in April.
Health advisories are non-binding and non-regulatory, but will help state and local authorities determine whether they need to take action to deal with the public health impacts, according to the plan.
“Health advisories provide a margin of protection by setting a concentration level in drinking water at or below which lifetime exposure is not expected to result in adverse health effects,” he said. . âThey include information on health effects, analytical methodologies and treatment technologies and are designed to protect all stages of life. “
EPA roadmap sets deadlines
The EPA’s plan also sets deadlines for setting applicable drinking water limits under the Safe Drinking Water Act, strengthens the ability to hold polluters accountable, and reviews the agency’s past actions. regarding PFAS, according to the press release. The plan also calls for increased surveillance, data collection and research, he said.
Faber said the plan marks the first time that a president’s administration of either political party has put in place a time frame for which he can be held accountable.
U.S. Representative Richard Hudson, a Republican who represents North Carolina’s 8th District, issued a statement on the EPA’s roadmap.
“I am happy to see that the EPA is forever giving these toxic chemicals the attention they deserve,” he said. “We need a comprehensive and reasonable approach to tackling PFAS and I look forward to reviewing the EPA roadmap.”
Hudson thanked Regan for developing the initiative.
âI will continue to work with the Administrator and my colleagues in Congress to ensure that citizens near the Cape Fear River and throughout our region have access to safe drinking water,â he said.
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Local editor Steve DeVane can be reached at [email protected] or 910-486-3572.