GenX & Brunswick County Public Utilities Drinking Water

Brunswick County is working to share new information as we learn of it to help the public stay informed about the GenX chemical and its presence in the Cape Fear River.

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Brunswick County Updates
Letters to NCDEQ & Resolutions Regarding Chemours

Letters submitted to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality:

Resolutions passed, urging Chemours to stop discharge of GenX into the Cape Fear River:

Meeting with Chemours

Brunswick County Commissioners’ Chairman Frank Williams, Manager Ann Hardy and Health & Human Services Executive Director David Stanley attended a meeting with Chemours and other local officials on June 15 to discuss GenX.

 

 

Partner Organizations & Resources

Brunswick County is working with New Hanover County, Pender County, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority and the City of Wilmington to address this issue. Please click the links below for updates from their websites.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is GENX?

  • According to DuPont Chemours, GENX is a technology developed to make high-performance polymers used in cabling, cookware non-stick coatings, laptops, cell phones, and a host of similar applications. The processing aid associated with the process is commonly referred to as GENX. GENX replaces the use of PFOA (perflurooctanaic acid).

What do we know about GENX?

  • We know that the EPA has not yet developed a drinking water regulation for this contaminant and that there is limited information available on it. Ultimately, EPA will determine potential impacts and safety standards.

What is a contaminant?

  • The EPA’s Web site states, “The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) defines ‘contaminant’ as any physical, chemical, biological, or radiological substance or matter in water. Drinking water may reasonably be expected to contain at least small amounts of some contaminants. Some contaminants may be harmful if consumed at certain levels in drinking water. The presence of contaminants does not necessarily indicate that the water poses a health risk.”

What is the difference in PFOA (C8) and GENX?

  • Both chemicals are used in the production of plastics, water/stain repellants, firefighting foams, and food-contact paper coatings and have similar, but not identical, chemical characteristics. GenX and other perfluoroalkyl ether carboxylic acids (PFECAs) are replacing PFOA (C8) and other polyfluoralkyl chemicals (PFASs) due to their purported rapid bioelimination (elimination from the body). Both chemicals are unregulated by the EPA for drinking water standards. However, more studies are available on PFOA (and a similar chemical, PFOS) than for GenX. The EPA has established a lifetime health advisory level for PFOA and PFOS of 70 parts per trillion, though there is not a similar health advisory level for GenX.

What are these chemicals used for?

  • Fluoropolymer-based materials that contain PFOA, PFOS, and GenX are found in several different environments that humans are regularly exposed to. According to DuPont, the company’s fluoropolymers are used in non-sticking coatings for cookware, breathable water repellent clothing for outdoor, military, medical and clean room activities. In addition to cookware and clothing, fluoropolymers are used to make things lighter, like laptop computers, cellphones, media players and home theaters.
  • The EPA’s Drinking Water Lifetime Health Advisory level for PFOA and PFOS is 70 parts per trillion. According to the EPA fact sheet, EPA scientists take into account other means of exposure when determining a health advisory. So, exposure routes such as air, food, dust, and consumer products are taken into consideration when determining the health advisory for drinking water.

When did Brunswick County learn about GENX?

  • Brunswick County was not aware of the presence of GENX in the Cape Fear River, or the study performed by researchers from N.C. State University, until recent media reports.

What studies are available?

  • According to a release by the NC Department of Health and Human Services, “There are no U.S. regulatory guideline levels for GENX. However, as part of the European chemical registration, a 2-year chronic toxicity and cancer study with rats was performed. They reported a Derived No Effect Level (DNEL) of 0.01 mg/kg bw/day. Based on U.S. risk assessment calculations, this corresponds to a concentration in drinking water of 70,909 ng/L of GENX — more than 100 times greater than the mean value of 631 ng/L detected in the Cape Fear River. Based upon these data, the GENX levels detected in 2013-2014 would be expected to pose a low risk to human health.”

Officials from NC DHHS and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) are working with the EPA to learn more, but on June 19, Zack Moore, NC DHHS’ Epidemiology Section Chief, said that based on the information that NC DHHS has now, the department’s conclusions haven’t changed.

So what does this study indicate?

  • During discussions on June 13, toxicologists and other professionals within the NC Department of Health and Human Services provided additional insights. The Derived No Effect Level is the level of exposure to a chemical substance above which humans should not be exposed. The “Derived No Effect Level” is based on the most vulnerable population (infants). According to this study, the amount of GENX in the finished drinking water would need to be more than 100 times greater than that measured in the 2013-2014 samples of the raw source water in the Cape Fear River to exceed the Derived No Effect Level for the most vulnerable population. Another way in which to describe the risk is that the levels of GENX detected in 2013-2014 (631 ng/L) is only 1% of the Derived No Effect Level (70,909 ng/L).

What is a Lifetime Health Advisory?

  • The EPA issues Health Advisories for some chemicals, guidelines which offer an estimate of acceptable limits for daily consumption that are not expected to cause adverse health effects (which vary by chemical and advisory, but can include health effects like cancer, thyroid effects and/or liver effects) to vulnerable populations (such as infants, pregnant woman or elderly persons). The health advisories refer to different time frames, and give an estimate of an acceptable limit for consistent daily consumption over that period of time without adverse health effects. A one-day health advisory refers to concentrations of a chemical in drinking water that are not expected to cause adverse health effects for up to one day of exposure. A ten-day health advisory refers to a concentration that is not expected to cause adverse health effects for up to ten days of consistent daily exposure at that level (based on a 10 kg/22 pound child consuming one liter of water per day).
  • A lifetime health advisory refers to a concentration that is not expected to cause adverse health effects over a lifetime of consistent daily exposure at that level (based on a 70 kg/154 pound adult consuming two liters of water each day). These advisories are not enforceable standards, but are meant to serve as guidance, and are based on scientific studies.

What steps can I take at home? Is there a home filtration system that will remove GenX?

  • There is very little information currently available regarding GenX and filtration, at the utility level and at the home or individual system level. Some scientists and researchers speculate that certain filtration types might remove GenX from drinking water; however, at this time there is no firm data showing whether or not these systems actually do, and state officials have no recommendations regarding home filtration systems. If data becomes available to Brunswick County regarding proven steps that residents can take, including home filtration systems, we will share it at www.brunswickcountync.gov/genx.

Will boiling my water remove Genx?

  • There would not be any expected benefit to boiling water in order to remove GenX, because it is a chemical compound.

What about reverse osmosis?

  • Reverse Osmosis is known as an effective treatment technology for the removal of very small size particles, inclusive of essential minerals, many chemical compounds, and bacteria. However, Brunswick County is unaware of any studies that conclusively state that reverse osmosis will remove GENX from drinking water. Each drinking water treatment method has its own advantages and disadvantages. Furthermore, based on the information available at this point, GENX is considered to constitute a low health risk. Brunswick County’s treated water was not part of the 2013-2014 study so the presence of GENX has not yet been validated. The testing that is being performed this week will provide information on the current levels of GENX in Brunswick County’s water. Brunswick County will continue to evaluate information on GENX as it becomes available as well as current levels in the water and will take the appropriate action based on that information.

Should I drink bottled or distilled water?

  • The health needs and situations of individuals vary widely and the use of bottled water or distilled water is an individual decision that should be discussed with your physician. It should be noted that the makeup of bottled water is dependent on its source and treatment process and distilled water is devoid of essential minerals. Water from Brunswick County Public Utilities (BCPU) meets all EPA and state standards regarding water quality.

Will there be bottled water provided?

  • At this time, there are no plans to provide bottled water.

With GENX in the Cape Fear River, what can/will Brunswick County do to ensure the water is safe?

  • Brunswick County Public Utilities treats its source water above and beyond current state and federal standards and maintains a robust sampling and monitoring schedule. Additionally, we believe in the importance of participating in studies such as this one to ensure that emerging compounds are discovered and appropriately regulated to protect drinking water utilities and their customers. BCPU believes the best next step is to determine if this compound needs to be regulated. Additionally, Brunswick County supports and encourages efforts by Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to eliminate discharges of chemicals into the river that have possible detrimental impacts on drinking water source quality. You can view BCPU’s water quality reports, with information about Brunswick County’s water system and the sampling mentioned above, online.

Does BCPU monitor for GENX? If not, why?

  • Due to GENX’s status as an emerging and unregulated contaminant, there are no EPA-certified methods to monitor and test for the substance and no state requirements to do so. However, Brunswick County is working with the Department of Environmental Quality and other utilities in the region to provide testing for both the raw source water in the Cape Fear River and the finished water within the distribution system of these utilities. Commercial testing facilities are very limited at this time and it is expected that sample results will not be available for two to three weeks. For more information on permitting and compliance enforcement, please contact the State of North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality–the agency responsible for monitoring and regulating dischargers on the river.

Why isn’t Brunswick County doing its own testing?

  • The testing to determine the presence or amount of GenX in the water of the Cape Fear River involves several specific steps and specialized testing equipment, to ensure that the samples are not contaminated and that conditions are maintained to ensure accurate, valid test results. Additionally, river levels and discharges into the river vary widely so it is important for comparison purposes that all samples throughout the river and the various drinking water systems be taken at relatively the same time for comparison purposes. Because of the specialized equipment, the very precise steps needed, and the coordination required between multiple utility providers, Brunswick County is supporting NC DEQ in its testing plans rather than attempting to duplicate efforts.

Has Brunswick County tested for or found any similar substances?

  • Every five years, the EPA develops a list of contaminants of interest for local utility providers to monitor. The contaminants are not subject to regulation, but are known or anticipated to be in public water systems, and may require future regulation. In 2014 and 2015, testing performed by Brunswick County in compliance with this monitoring rule did show some amounts of the PFOA, sometimes referred to as C8, and PFOS compounds. The amounts found were below the health advisories that had been issued at the time. In 2016, the health advisories were lowered, but the amounts Brunswick County had found were below the new health advisories. The results of these tests were reported to customers in the County’s annual Water Quality Report, which is sent to each customer and posted on the county’s website, where it remains viewable online. These results were also reported to the EPA and NCDEQ.

Is Brunswick County doing anything about 1,4-Dioxane?

  • Every five years, the EPA develops a list of contaminants of interest for local utility providers to monitor. The contaminants are not subject to regulation, but are known or anticipated to be in public water systems, and may require future regulation. As part of testing for this list of contaminants, in 2015 Brunswick County did detect levels of 1,4-Dioxane, below EPA Health Advisory Levels issued at that time. The results of this testing were reported to customers in the County’s annual Water Quality Report, which is sent to each customer and posted on the county’s website (http://www.brunswickcountync.gov/files/utilities/2015/02/CCR_2015.pdf). The results were also reported to the EPA and NCDEQ. Brunswick County is consulting with NCDHHS and has requested additional information and clarification regarding health advisories and cancer risks for this chemical.

Is Brunswick County looking into cancer rates in our area, or a connection between cancer rates and chemicals in our water?

  • NC Department of Health and Human Services has been looking into the rates of cancer, and specific types of cancer, comparing those rates to statewide rates to look for anomalies. After Chemours informed area officials that the presence of GenX in the Cape Fear River may have started decades earlier than initially indicated, NC DHHS researchers began examining these rates over a wider timeframe.

Can customers put a filter on their tap to remove GENX?

  • GENX is a new, unregulated compound and we are unaware of technologies capable of removing it from the water at this time. We will provide more information as it becomes available.

What is being done about this situation?

  • Since we were made aware of the presence of GENX in the Cape Fear River, we have been in constant communication with other area utility providers, state and federal government, and private agencies to learn as much as we can about the chemical, its potential impacts, and what steps to take next. Additionally, our Health Department is in contact with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services about any public health research on the chemical. Further, county staff and Commissioners are in communication with New Hanover County, the City of Wilmington, and the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority.

On June 15, Brunswick County Commissioners Chairman Frank Williams, County Manager Ann Hardy and Health and Human Services Executive Director David Stanley met with officials from Chemours and local and state agencies. At this meeting, Chemours officials stated that the GenX compound found in the Cape Fear River was likely a byproduct of another manufacturing process at the same location, and not due to discharge from the plant making GenX.

After the meeting, Brunswick County officials joined other local officials in asking Chemours to cease discharge of GenX into the Cape Fear River immediately, while regulatory authorities make a determination of the chemical. The Chairman’s notes from the meeting and video of the press conference held after are available at www.brunswickcountync.gov/genx.

At the June 19 regular Board of Commissioners meeting, the Board passed a resolution requesting that Chemours halt any process resulting in discharge of GenX into the Cape Fear River and approved funding for a consultant to provide specialized technical assistance.

NCDEQ and NC DHHS are leading a state investigation into the presence of GenX in the Cape Fear River, and are pushing Chemours to limit the amount of GenX being released into the river. NCDEQ is collecting water samples and sending them to a laboratory in Colorado which is capable of detecting GenX at low concentrations.

Will Rep. Rouzer be involved?

Will there be a public meeting to discuss?

  • At this time, a public meeting has not been scheduled regarding GENX. If one is scheduled, it will be posted on the County Website here or here.

Is a map available showing locations within the Brunswick County service area that receives source water from the Cape Fear River?

  • The Northwest Water Treatment Plant (Cape Fear River source water) can and sometimes does provide water throughout the Brunswick County water system. While some areas of the system typically receive water from one plant or the other, a map has not been provided because it may be misinterpreted to indicate that some customers may never receive water from the Northwest Water Treatment Plant. Areas that typically receive water from the 211 Groundwater Treatment Plant include Bald Head Island, Caswell Beach, Oak Island, Southport, and St. James. All other areas typically receive water from the Northwest Water Treatment Plant (Cape Fear River surface water). Bald Head Island also has a groundwater treatment facility and supplements their water supply from Brunswick County.

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