I’ve been hearing that there are harmful chemicals in some of North Carolina’s water sources. Can you tell me more about this?
While studying the Cape Fear River in 2013, NC State University professor, Dr. Detlef Knappe, and his colleagues discovered high levels of industrial chemicals, including one called ‘GenX.’
Working with scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Dr. Knappe’s team reported their findings to a scientific journal. Subsequent media reports brought the issue to the attention of North Carolina state officials.
What is GenX, and why does it exist?
GenX is a human-made, unregulated chemical in a family of chemicals called PFAS. Click here to read more.
Manufacturing companies use these chemicals to make products that are resistant to water, stains and grease. These include nonstick cookware, water repellent, food wrappers, cleaning products, fire-fighting foam and many others.
In 2009, the DuPont Chemours Company, in Fayetteville, NC, began commercial production and use of GenX [and that is when the chemical began to appear in rivers and streams in the Cape Fear River basin area].
How did this happen?
GenX is a byproduct of the process of manufacturing the products mentioned above. This and other PFAS can get into water and air around the factories that use or dispose of these chemicals and sometimes persist through wastewater treatment systems.
PFAS are also present in firefighting foams used by firefighters and military bases to extinguish petroleum (fuel) based fires. The foam also directly travels into water sources.
How do I know whether my water is safe?
There is currently no federal legal standard regulating the maximum allowable levels of any PFAS in drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a drinking water health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for two PFAS chemicals called PFOA and PFOS. North Carolina’s goal is for drinking water to have less than of 140 ppt of the GenX chemical. Both these levels are recommendations based on currently available research data, and it is believed a very low risk of developing health effects would be expected over a lifetime of exposure to these 3 particular PFAS below the levels.
Are you testing to find out how much GenX is in the water?
Researchers in the NC PFAS Testing Network are collecting and analyzing water samples from municipal drinking water supplies throughout the state — and private wells near the Chemours facility – to determine levels of GenX and other PFAS.
They also are conducting additional field studies and laboratory experiments to assess potential health effects of exposure in humans. These data will assist North Carolina state regulatory agencies in creating additional guidance and regulations for the well-being of North Carolina residents.
In the meanwhile, is there anything we can do to filter these substances out of our water?
There are several filtration methods that can be used to filter PFAS out of water with different degrees of success depending on factors such as the types and number of different PFAS contaminating the water and the source of contaminated water. In addition, other things to consider with each filtration technology include costs, operational feasibility and specific family and community needs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an overview of the four main filtration methods that you can read here.
Additionally, researchers (including in the PFAST Network) are actively studying the effectiveness of PFAS removal and remediation methods such as commercially available filtration technologies as well as new materials being developed for removal of GenX and other PFAS compounds.
What is the NC PFAS Testing Network, and how is it funded?
As part of the 2018-2019 fiscal year budget, the NC General Assembly awarded the NC Policy Collaboratory at UNC about $5 million to work with scientific experts to conduct baseline water- and air-quality testing for PFAS compounds, including GenX. The full legislation pertaining to NC PFAS Testing Network can be found here.
The funds are shared among a network of more than 20 researchers at universities across North Carolina. The North Carolina universities represented within the NC PFAS Testing Network include NC State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, East Carolina University, UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Wilmington and NC A&T. This research model is the first of its kind for any state in the United States to begin studying the occurrence, impacts and removal of PFAS in our environment.
Other Resources and Information on GenX and PFAS Chemicals
Health Effects Information and Research
National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS)
US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)
US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
PFAS Data and Tools by Topic
US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)