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DEQ To Test Fish, Possibly Vegetables, For GenX

A sign at the entrance of the Fayetteville Works site on N.C. 87 in Bladen County, North Carolina.
Rusty Jacobs

State regulators are testing fish from a privately-owned lake near the Chemours plant in Bladen County for the presence of GenX, the latest regulatory response to increasing questions about the risks posed by this emerging contaminant.

Chemours produces GenX at its Fayetteville Works site for use in non-stick surfaces like Teflon. The company released GenX into the Cape Fear River for years – its wastewater permit was suspended in November – and airborne GenX has appeared in wells near the company's plant and in rainwater downwind of the facility. The unregulated chemical has been linked to cancer in lab animals but its health effects on humans are not known.

State health and environmental quality officials addressed the Secretaries' Science Advisory Board on Monday. The board is assessing the state's regulatory response to GenX and other emerging contaminants and considering whether to recommend revising the health department's provisional health goal of 140 parts per trillion for drinking water.

"We all know that the scientific evidence is very thin and we're trying to make the most of what's available to us," said Jamie Bartram, Chairman of the Science Advisory Board and a professor of environmental science at UNC Chapel Hill. "We have do that in a way that is scientifically defensible but, as far as we possibly can, we need to respond to the public need to know about things that really frighten people about their day-to-day lives."

DEQ Might Test Homegrown Vegetables

Michael Scott, who directs the Waste Management Division at the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, told the board his agency is considering testing vegetables grown in gardens near the Chemours plant in Bladen County.

Scott referenced Dutch research on produce from vegetable gardens near a Chemours plant in the Netherlands. The researchers looked at vegetables such as lettuce, beets, carrots, and bell peppers, from gardens within a four-kilometer radius of that plant.

The highest concentrations of GenX were found in vegetables grown within a kilometer of the plant. Scott told the advisory board the Dutch scientists concluded there was no need to limit consumption of vegetables grown beyond a kilometer from the Dutch plant. As for vegetables grown within a kilometer of the Dutch plant, the study only said people should not consume them too often, which was defined as two to three times a day.

"These compounds have potential to enter garden crops or different food crops but at levels that are not necessarily above a daily intake amount that would be problematic," said Scott, in an interview after he addressed the advisory board.

Scott informed the advisory board that DEQ has collected several species of fish from a private lake north of the Chemours plant in Bladen County.

"This the first step in starting to answer the bio-accumulation factor specific to North Carolina," said Scott, referring to public concerns about whether GenX could be showing up in food, such as fish, venison or produce.

Regulators Exploring Ways To Curb Air Emissions Of GenX

In a pilot program, Chemours has committed to installing carbon absorbers on the facility's smokestacks that could reduce GenX emissions by 90 percent, according to Mike Abraczinskas, Director of DEQ's Air Quality Division.

"There will be subsequent testing that we will be requiring to make sure that it maintains that high level of control efficiency," said Abraczinskas.

As the Science Advisory Board does its own assessment of the state regulatory response to GenX, the federal Environmental Protection Agency is working on its own provisional health goal for the unregulated perfluorinated chemical, an effort expected to take at least five months.

Rusty Jacobs is a politics reporter for WUNC.
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