Energy & Environment

EPA finds chemical contaminating NC river more toxic than previously assessed

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A new assessment from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on chemicals known as “GenX” chemicals that have been found in a North Carolina river show they are more toxic than a Trump-era assessment found. 

The new toxicity assessment from the EPA says it’s safe for people to ingest less of the chemical than previously thought. 

It’s now safe to ingest “GenX” chemicals at a level of only three-millionths of a milligram per kilogram of body weight each day. 

A 2018 draft report from the agency said it was safe to ingest eight-hundred-thousandths of a milligram per kilogram of body weight. 

The new report states that in animal studies, GenX chemicals have shown impacts on the liver, kidneys and immune system as well as offspring development and have an “association” with cancer. 

Using animal studies, the 2018 draft found health impacts in the kidneys, blood, immune system and fetal development and said the data was “suggestive” of cancer. 

GenX chemicals have been found in North Carolina’s Cape Fear River, which has been a drinking water source for the Wilmington, N.C., area.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan was formerly the head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality and secured an agreement with a company called Chemours over the contamination that required it to stop discharging its wastewater in the area. 

Chemours spokesperson Cassie Olszewski provided a statement to The Hill saying the company was “unaware” of data that would support the agency’s conclusion, but that it was reviewing the technical info it released. 

“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,” the statement said. 

GenX is part of a class of chemicals known as PFAS, which have been linked to a range of health issues. PFAS are sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily and persist in people’s bodies and the environment. 

GenX has been used as a replacement for a different PFAS chemical called PFOA. PFOA has also been linked to adverse health outcomes. 

The new EPA report uses updated data since the 2018 draft in addition to a new review process and changed uncertainty factors. 

The EPA is currently planning to regulate PFOA and another substance called PFOS in drinking water.

It’s not clear whether the EPA will eventually take a similar step for GenX, saying that it is “exploring regulatory approaches for additional PFAS compounds, which may include GenX chemicals.”

It will, however, issue a health advisory in the spring for GenX, which can provide technical information to states on health effects and treatment technologies. 

This story was updated at 6:35 p.m.

Tags Michael Regan North Carolina PFAS pollutants
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