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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

GenX: Two Studies Show Growth Of Contaminated Water Areas

The first phase of a North Carolina State University water study on GenX is complete. Nearly every home whose tap water researchers tested last fall showed levels of GenX, and they found other perfluorinated chemicals as well. Meanwhile an environmental group in Washington has released a new map to learn more about bad drinking water across the country. 

“So we are here tonight to start to share the results from our GenX exposure study. We enrolled over 300 people in November. We collected blood and urine, and we collected tap water samples at people’s homes ……”

That’s Jane Hoppin. She’s the Deputy Director of the Center for Human Health and the Environment at N.C. State. She’s speaking to about 70 residents at UNCW’s Lumina Theater about the GenX study. Only the first part of the study is complete – the testing of tap water in peoples’ homes.

Last year, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences awarded Hoppin and her team of researchers a $275,000 grant. The purpose is to study the region’s contamination of GenX and 16 other fluorochemicals that researchers believe come from Chemours at the Fayetteville Works facility.

198 homes across New Hanover County had their tap water tested. Nadine Kotlarz is an N.C. State postdoctoral research scholar.

“What we can see from this is that most of the samples that were from households that are serviced with water from the Cape Fear River had measurable levels of GenX. However the concentrations, the GenX concentrations in the samples were all below the 140 parts per trillion health value.” 

While on the surface that sounds encouraging, researchers found other things as well.

Nadine Kotlarz.

“I think what is important to follow up on is the presence of these other compounds that are newly identified, that we weren’t able to get concentrations for because we didn’t have the chemical standards but could be present at higher concentrations in these samples than GenX. So I think when I saw that data I, we’re committed to following up on that and making sure that we understand how much of them is there.”

Jane Hoppin agrees.

“I think the most important thing is we saw new chemicals in the water, that were at higher concentrations than GenX, and while we can’t quantify those for sure, it means that we need to keep looking and see what else is there.”

The N.C. State research also revealed during last week’s meeting that Nafion Byproduct 2 had higher levels in the tap water. Dana Sargent is with Cape Fear River Watch, a local advocacy group.

“We know, we heard from some of the toxicologists early on that Nafion Byproducts are possibly more toxic than GenX, yet we still haven’t gotten any results yet from the DEQ which they talked about today because the standard is so hard to get, manipulate, test for, and then to get the system to be able to be trained on the sample. Today we did see the levels without the concentration – and they were pretty high for Nafion Byproduct 2, and PFMOAA, so I’m happy to hear they got the standard now in time for the blood and the urine samples, and I look forward to those responses.”

Meanwhile last week, some 400 miles north of the Cape Fear region, Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy group in Washington D.C., released a new study on water contamination across the U.S.

EWG worked with Northeastern University in Boston to create an analysis and map of perfluorinated compound problem areas.

Phil Brown is a Professor of Health Sciences at Northeastern.

“It became very clear very quickly that there were a lot of contamination episodes and the main reason we found them was not because government was reporting them but because they were reported by radio stations, by local newspapers, they were discovered by citizens groups, they were located and made public by very ordinary people who had no background in environmental health or political advocacy.”

Brown says that Wilmington’s leaders are discovering this is a state issue -- not a federal one.

“What’s happened with a lot of chemical policy even before this, even during the Obama administration, states were often taking the leads when the federal government was not, so I worked a lot before this on another class of chemicals that’s been very widely made public and has a lot of regulatory change on which is flame retardants. And there too you didn’t see the EPA doing much at all. You had individual states that were banning some of the flame-retardants. The EPA did have some agreements, voluntary agreements with companies, but they have not tended to be very regulatory even during the Democratic administrations. So it was really up to the states and that is what’s happened with the PFASs.”

David Andrews is Senior Scientist at Environmental Working Group.

“In the current political climate it’s hard to see Washington taking a leadership role, in regulating these contaminants in a way that would help protect us. Many of the states are pursuing legal limits, reviewing science, and often times setting values that are more health protected than the EPA and we expect that in many ways to continue.”

He says citizens will need to continue to play an active role.

Again Northeastern’s Phil Brown.

“I did mention before the power of individuals. And of community groups in making these discoveries and in pursuing remediation and regulation is always the most important thing. It has been ever since Love Canal when we discovered the extent of contamination in our modern society. I always have a lot of hope and faith that community groups like the ones that we work with are able to do this.”

Back in Wilmington, perhaps the most welcome news at the GenX study meeting came from Detlef Knappe of N.C. State. In addition to testing tap water, the team tested water coming through a variety of under sink filtration systems.

“In short, if I had to make a recommendation, and you’ve heard me say that before, all of the under-sink reverse osmosis filters that we tested performed well. So here is an example of a particular home, where these were all the compounds that were present in the tap water. Again I am showing the mass spectrometer response because we don’t have the pure form of these chemicals available to us, but you can see very clearly that when you look at the reverse osmosis treated water almost all of those compounds are gone, including Nafion Byproduct 2, and this PFMOAA that dominated the signature of the PFAS in the tap water.”

The N.C. State researchers plan to release the blood and urine test results in late summer.

Click Here - For Environmental Working Group Tap Water Map