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In major step, EPA publishes toxicity assessment for GenX, additional guidance to come

cape fear river (2).jpg
Kelly Kenoyer
A view of downtown Wilmington from the Cape Fear River.

The state will wait for further guidance before changing its provisional drinking water health goal.

The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday released a federal human health toxicity assessment for exposure to GenX — the chemical that has long polluted the Cape Fear River and Wilmington’s drinking water.

The toxicity assessment for GenX is actually lower than the reference doses for the legacy PFAS — meaning the chemical could be dangerous at lower doses than previously thought. The EPA has said it will release a health advisory for GenX in the spring of 2022.

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is in the midst of constructing a granular activated carbon filter to remove GenX and other PFAS from the drinking water. Construction began in 2019, two years after news broke that the Fayetteville Chemours plant was dumping GenX in the water. While the amount of GenX released into the Cape Fear has dropped dramatically in the intervening years, CFPUA continues to test for the chemical, and has found levels as high as 62 parts per trillion in March of 2021.

The new GAC filter should come online in June of 2022, soon after the federal health advisory is scheduled to be released.

CFPUA said in a press release that the filters should reduce GenX in the drinking water to less than one part per trillion. North Carolina’s current provisional drinking water health goal for GenX is 140 parts per trillion, but that may change with the EPA’s guidance next year.

Construction of the new filters is costing $46 million. CFPUA is suing Chemours and DuPont in federal court to recover those costs, as well as ongoing costs to run the filters.

CFPUA Executive Director Kenneth Waldroup said, “While our community leaders have moved to address the issue of GenX decisively through the construction of these new filters, the work to hold the responsible parties accountable continues.”

He went on to say Chemours should pay for safe drinking water near the mouth of the river, just as it has paid for safe drinking water in the counties surrounding the plant with contaminated groundwater.

“If this company is to live up to its stated corporate values, it must act now, instead of waiting for the courts to enforce corporate responsibility,” Waldroup said.

On Tuesday, Chemours issued the following statement:

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.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant new to the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.