The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday released an assessment showing that GenX, a chemical made at a factory in Bladen County, is more toxic than previously believed.
The toxicity assessment of hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid and its ammonium salt, which the EPA calls the GenX chemicals, determined a daily ingestion level at which a person is unlikely to suffer adverse health effects, according to the EPA website. In a similar review in 2018, agency officials set this chronic “benchmark dose” at more than 26 times this year’s assessment.
The EPA’s review talked about possible health effects.
âStudies in animals after oral exposure have shown health effects including liver, kidney, immune system, offspring development and association with cancer,â he said. “Based on the information available in studies of different sexes, life stages and durations of exposure, the liver appears to be particularly sensitive to oral exposure to GenX chemicals.”
EPA officials say the assessment will help public health officials determine the risks associated with GenX.
Chemours Company manufactures GenX at its Bladen County plant. The chemical is also a byproduct of other processes out there.
GenX belongs to a family of compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkylated substances. Compounds are sometimes called “eternal chemicals” because they do not break down easily.
State officials have been investigating GenX since 2017, when the Wilmington Star-News reported that researchers discovered the chemicals and the like 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.
GenX and similar compounds have also been discovered in hundreds of wells around the Chemours facility, located off the NC 87 near the Cumberland County line.
Chemours ‘ignoring the data’ that supports the assessment
Lisa Randall, a spokeswoman for Chemours, released a statement Monday saying company officials are reviewing “the substantial body of technical information” the EPA released with the toxicity assessment.
“We do not know of any data that would support the conclusions drawn by the agency,” the statement said. âWe are reviewing the information for additional insight into the new review process used by the agency and the new data the agency used for the change from its 2018 assessment project, including the application of revised uncertainty factors to reflect greater uncertainty even if the agency indicates that there is additional data since the draft assessment.
GenX belongs to a family of compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Compounds are sometimes called “eternal chemicals” because they do not break down easily.
Laura Leonard, spokesperson for the State Department for Environmental Quality, released a statement saying the assessment is a positive development that will help advance the science-related health effects of GenX. She said officials from the state Department and Department of Health and Human Services would review the assessment, which she called “an important first step that the EPA will use to develop a national GenX advisory on the health of drinking water, expected in spring 2022 “.
The state DHHS issued a statement that the department’s interim drinking water health target for GenX represents the level at which no adverse health effects would be expected over a lifetime of consumption.
“The health goal was designed to protect the most sensitive populations, and it has been the subject of extensive review by the Secretaries’ Scientific Advisory Board,” the statement said. “North Carolina’s interim target is below GenX levels that have been set in other states.”
State DHHS officials are not updating the health target at this time to stay in line with EPA scientific guidance, the statement said. Officials expect the health target to be replaced by the EPA’s national health notice next year, he said.
Vaughn Hagerty, spokesperson for the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority in Wilmington, said in a statement officials had just received the information on the toxicity assessment.
“CFPUA staff are contacting the state to help us understand the implications of the reference dose in the EPA’s GenX toxicity assessment and its impact on the lifetime health goal of 140 state ppt for GenX in drinking water, âhe said.
The authority’s board of directors voted this month to spend more than $ 700,000 to replace granular activated carbon in existing filters at its Sweeney water treatment plant. The replacement is expected to continue to remove some GenX compounds and other PFAS compounds from the raw water of the Cape Fear River until new filters come online next year.
Professor says document shows residents “still struggling”
Larry Cahoon, professor of biology and marine biology at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, said he looked at raw water levels in the river after the release of the toxicity assessment of the EPA. They were above assessment levels in all but one of the surveillance findings out of more than 130, he said.
Cahoon said residents of New Hanover and Brunswick counties have struggled with contaminated water for four years.
âWe are still in trouble,â he said.
Cahoon said the possible impact on the liver is “never a good thing.” The possible impact on the immune system is particularly troubling during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
âIf we have a compromised immune system, our risk of COVID is that much higher,â he said.
The continued presence of GenX in the river after Chemours reduces the amount it emits to the air and water suggests the compound is in the watershed, Cahoon said.
âThis area is just saturated with this stuff,â he said. “The legacy of this stuff in the watershed is going to be with us for a long time.”
Cahoon said he was also concerned that the toxicity rating for GenX is lower than that of perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA, and perfluorooctane sulfonate, PFOS.
The EPA has said that exposure to PFOA and PFOS above certain levels can lead to adverse health effects, including cancer.
âWe had assumed that GenX was less toxic,â he said. “It’s clearly worse than we expected.”
The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization, issued a statement calling attention to the EPA’s listing of lower toxicity levels for GenX than PFOA and PFOS.
David Andrews, the group’s lead scientist, said the GenX toxicity value is an important step towards protecting people in communities who are contaminated with the compound.
“We commend the EPA for recognizing the extreme toxicity of GenX, the lack of adequate data and the need for a more protective health value than the 2018 proposal,” he said.
The Southern Environmental Law Center said in a statement that the GenX assessment shows the importance of regulating PFAS as a class of chemicals. Geoff Gisler, lead counsel for the center, said the stricter assessment shows why it is essential for states to impose stricter limits on PFAS compounds using the existing authority available when issuing water permits. .
âToday’s toxicity assessment is further confirmation that the more we learn about these chemicals, the more we learn that they should be treated as a class; no community should have to suffer from harmful PFAS while we wait for research to confirm their toxicity, âhe said.
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Local editor Steve DeVane can be reached at [email protected] or 910-486-3572.