Timeline of GenX Contamination In North Carolina
Ernesto Esquivel-Amores and Analies Dyjak | Water NerdsOn June 14th, one year ago today, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality began its investigation into a chemical called GenX. While this topic has gained a majority of national press this past year, many people don’t realize that fluorinated chemical contamination has been a public health threat for decades. These compounds are associated with the production of Teflon and Scotchgaurd, which have been used in households since the 1960’s. While this timeline highlights GenX contamination, there are several other harmful fluorinated compounds in drinking water sources throughout the country. This article discusses the past, present, and future of GenX, and progress being made reduce the threat to human health and the environment.
1980Dupont, the chemical manufacturing company began discharging Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as C8, into the Cape Fear River in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Dupont purchased PFOA from 3M, which is another chemical manufacturing company out of Minnesota. PFOA is an ingredient that’s used during the manufacturing of heat and water resistant products. The Fayetteville plant was and is still located on the Cape Fear River, which is the primary drinking source for Brunswick, Bladen, New Hanover, and Pender counties.
March 2002DuPont and EPA established a temporary threshold level of 14,000 parts per trillion for PFOA. This agreement, made under the Safe Drinking Water Act, had a condition that required DuPont to pay for alternative sources of drinking water for affected users if water samples tested higher than the agreed upon threshold.
October 20023M stopped manufacturing PFOA because the company recognized its harmful effects to human health and the environment. Later in 2002, DuPont began making the same chemical at its Fayetteville plant in North Carolina.
2005EPA penalizes DuPont with a $10.25 million lawsuit for failing to report information about “substantial risk of injury to human health and the environment.” EPA also required DuPont to give $6.25 million to fund various environmental programs. At the same time DuPont and other PFOA manufacturers came to an agreement to “voluntarily” phase out production by 2015.
2009DuPont began to voluntary use GenX as a substitute for PFOA at the Fayetteville plant. DuPont claimed this substitute was a safer alternative to PFOA.
January 2009DuPont informed EPA that they would begin manufacturing GenX at the Fayetteville plant. A few weeks later, EPA entered a separate consent order with DuPont to address dealing with the GenX chemical discharge into the water and air. DuPont was able to find a loophole in the consent order that does not apply to substances produced as the byproducts of other processes. This means that GenX could be discharged without needing to follow the terms of the consent order.
March 2009A new consent order between EPA and DuPont under the Safe Drinking Water Act required that the threshold of PFOA levels need to be reduced from the previous threshold of 14,000 to 400 parts per trillion. This new order also stated that the company must provide alternative water sources to areas with PFOA levels exceeding the new threshold.
2012The North Carolina DEQ approved DuPont’s wastewater discharge permit. Additionally, the North Carolina Science Advisory Board recommended setting at max limit of 1000 parts per trillion for PFOA in groundwater. Later that year, North Carolina State University scientists find GenX in the Cape Fear River for this first time.
2015DuPont created spin off company from their division of “Performance Chemicals” called Chemours. Chemours is now in charge of manufacturing and discharging fluorinated contaminants.
2016The team at NC State released a report detecting GenX chemical in Cape Fear water. Contamination was associated with discharge from the Chemours plant upstream of the drinking water source.The researchers found that on average there was a GenX concentration of 631 parts per trillion per liter. NC State researchers tested various filtering methods to remove GenX from the drinking water. As it turns out, GenX is a harder chemical to filter out from water then the previous chemical PFOA.
2017North Carolina DEQ began investigating Chemours for their discharge of waste water into the Cape Fear River. Chemours then revealed that their predecessor company has been discharging various fluorinated compounds since the 1980’s and announced that it will capture, remove, and safely dispose of them rather than discharge contaminants into the river.
June 14, 2018
Today, the GenX dilemma in North Carolina remains unsolved. Community members have rallied to make the nation aware of this public health dubacle. Additionally, the North Carolina house and senate are trying to pass a wonky bill that only addresses one of the several dangerous chemicals in the Cape Fear watershed. Sponsors of the North Carolina Water Safety Act have essentially created a bill that caters to polluters. While the bill aims to regulate GenX chemical contamination in water, it fails to mention all of the other fluorinated compounds. This means that Chemours will only be held accountable to address GenX contamination, while continuing to produce and allow other fluorinated chemicals to run rampant in the Cape Fear River. Our Water Nerds believe that GenX should not necessarily be the star of the show. The entire class of fluorinated compounds need to be addressed when discussing North Carolina’s water quality and the absence of a comprehensive regulation. There's a laundry list of fluorinated compounds that the NC state laboratory detected in their initial water testing. Perfluorobutanoic acid (C4), Perfluoropentanoic acid (C5), Perfluorbutane sulfonic acid (PFBS), and Perfluoro-3-methoxypropanoic acid (PFMOPrA) are just some of the fluorinated compounds that NC State detected in Cape Fear's water. GenX is easy to say and sounds intimidating, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the most dangerous fluorinated compound in Cape Fear’s water.
Our Water Nerds will be staying current on this issue and providing updates as they unfold. To follow along, check out our Youtube channel here.Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
North Carolina Water Safety Act
3M Minnesota Groundwater Contamination
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- Analies Dyjak