What is GenX in Water and How to Remove GenX from Water

An aerial view of a river with GenX present, flowing through a forest.

Everything You Need To Know About GenX Contamination In Drinking Water: What is GenX in Water and How to Remove GenX from Water

Pollution (including the commercial dumping of chemicals and by products) has created a number of issues world-wide, and global awareness has significantly grown over the past decade. Since early June 2017, there has been much media attention- and rightfully so!- on GenX chemical tainting North Carolina drinking water. What is GenX in water though? Should we be worried about GenX chemicals in water?

Even more disturbing: GenX in water is not a new thing either! It may have been present in the Cape Fear River since 1980! Scientific studies have also indicated that GenX is not the only contaminant in the drinking water supply.

Wilmington, North Carolina (NC) is perhaps the most noticeably affected area by the issue at present with tens of thousands residents who may have consumed and could still be consuming this GenX tainted water.

There is huge concern for public safety as the health effects of GenX are not entirely known. There are no federal drinking standards for GenX in water.

Our aim is to give an unbiased overview of the issue, so that you get all of the facts and none of the fiction. We will cover what is GenX in water, what are the GenX chemical side effects, and how to remove GenX from water with water purification.

The most important thing we can stress is for people to ensure they have an adequate drinking water filter. Because no water filtration system has yet to be certified for removing GenX (not to say they don’t remove GenX from drinking water), the best protection is undoubtedly reverse osmosis.

There is also information about what is GenX in our other article, GenX Chemicals: Another Look at GenX in Water in North Carolina.

As more information becomes available about the GenX water crisis in North Carolina we will continue to update this article (last updated January 10, 2018).

Jump to section:
What is GenX?
What is GenX in Water?
How Did GenX Get in the Water?
Is Water Contaminated with GenX Safe to Drink?
CFPUA Knowledge of GenX in Water
Official Steps Made to Deal With the GenX Water Contamination Issue
How to Remove GenX from Water
Home Water Treatment Options for GenX Contamination

What is GenX?

In 2009, DuPont – a scientific engineering company founded as a gunpowder mill in 1802 – introduced GenX as an alternative for the perfluorooctanoic acid used to synthesize Teflon. As such, the chemical is considered essential in the production of household items like non-stick pans and firefighting foam.

DuPont has described GenX as having a more “favorable toxicological profile” than perfluorooctanoic acids (PFOA), and they were given a consent order from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make it commercially available. Increasing legal challenges based on research proving PFOA’s dangerous health effects were a major factor in bringing GenX into use, giving it status as an “emergency chemical”.

Despite this promising description, the compound is not very well understood at present. It can take as long as 20 years for a chemical to be regulated according to federal standards, and at present there are no test protocols designed for modulating GenX.

What is GenX in Water?

It’s difficult to detect GenX in water, let alone extract it, as it’s a “water-loving chemical”. This poses a very real problem for researchers attempting to understand the behavior of GenX in water, according to Dr. Detlef Knappe, a professor at the North Carolina State University who contributed to studies published in November 2016.

The GenX chemical bonds are also incredibly strong, which makes the compound resistant to the water treatment processes used to degrade pollutants and provide a cleaner, safer water supply. Such processes are successfully used to minimize and/or eliminate water contamination at water treatment plants such as the one in Sweeney.

This makes it nearly impossible to properly filter the relatively high levels of GenX in water supplies across the state, causing major concern for residents and corporations aware of the GenX contamination crisis.

GenX Contamination – How Did GenX Get in the Water?

Studies have discovered GenX in water from the Cape Fear River and Cape Fear Public Utility on at least three occasions since 2012. Samples collected in 2013-14 revealed an average reading of 631 parts per trillion.

In a recent meeting with local and state officials, representatives of the DuPont spin-off company Chemours Co. admitted that the Fayetteville Works site – about 100 miles upriver from Wilmington – is a potential culprit for the discharge of GenX in water supplies.

Controversially, the company has also stated that they don’t believe the GenX production project is to blame, claiming to adhere to the 99 percent capture limit detailed in their 2009 EPA consent order. As a result, they don’t believe the process causes any discharge of GenX in water on the site.

Instead, they believe the GenX contamination to be the result of a vinyl ether process from a separate project on the site. As the GenX created this way is merely a by-product rather than intentional, the discharge is not regulated.

Is Water Contaminated with GenX Safe to Drink?

Because of the difficulties in studying the effects of GenX in water, there is no clear answer to this crucial question.

Woody White, the New Hanover County Commissioners Chairman, asked Chemours officials whether they believed the water was safe to drink. Chemours’ Product Sustainability Director Kathy O’Keefe stated that it was the company’s official opinion that the current levels of GenX in water in the Cape Fear River is safe to drink and won’t pose any health risks.

While White admits that he personally feels the water is safe, he is hesitant to accept Chemours’ response. He offered a glass of tap water to everyone present at the meeting, and noted that none of the Chemours officials – including O’Keefe – seemed to have drunk any.

Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA) Knowledge of GenX in Water

A major point of concern is the fact that the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA) were only made aware of the GenX contamination issue in May 2016, and the board notified in June that same year. CFPUA’s Executive Director had previously stated that they were only made aware of GenX in water supplies in November last year, a statement recently corrected by Michael Brown, the CFPUA board chairman.

Brown has also since made a statement promising that one of the board members, Jennifer Adams, will be looking into the company’s past involvement in the NCSU’s study. Adams’ investigation is also to include communication by the CFPUA in creating public awareness of GenX contamination, which came under scrutiny during a recent meeting with officials.

White announced that he was not satisfied with steps taken by Chemours or the CFPUA to bring the issue of GenX contamination to the attention of the health department and the general public. Acknowledging that it wasn’t necessarily an intentional oversight by either company, he offered a respectful request and encouragement that both parties be more open with similar issues in future.

Official Steps Made to Deal With the GenX Water Contamination Issue

Mike Johnson – the Fayetteville Works’ environmental manager – claims that new technology installed by the company in November 2013 has successfully cut GenX in water sources around the site down to 100 parts per trillion. Johnson also reports that the company is looking into possible alterations to the production process and/or project to help further reduce the levels of GenX contamination.

In an attempt to speed up research into preventative measures, Chemours’ Senior Communications Manager Gary Cambre has testified that results from “extensive health and safety testing” has been shared with other regulation agencies and scientific publications around the world.

The CFPUA provided further samples of GenX in water that lead to the November 2016 publication of a study, which announced that the water supply meets all federal and state standards.

However, their Chief Operations Officer Frank Styers recently released a memo for board members recommending that the GenX chemical be better regulated. Although there is currently very little research on the effects of GenX in water and potential health issues created as a result, the regular presence of the compound has finally started to raise concerns. Styers believes that by implementing proper regulations at the discharge point, these valid concerns can be better addressed while further research is performed.

Local and national officials have also requested that Chemours stop all operations resulting in the production of the compound in an attempt to eliminate GenX contamination of the water supply. The Wilmington Mayor, Bill Saffo, asked asked the EPA and North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to suspend all operations resulting in GenX contamination until proper regulation and filtration methods have been developed and can be implemented.

The North Carolina DEQ has indeed launched a formal investigation into the matter of GenX in water supplies across the state. While no official motion has been made to suspend activities resulting in GenX production (as a by-product or otherwise), the investigation is said to include strict testing of water near the Fayetteville Works site over the next three months. The DEQ’s intentions are to monitor GenX contamination resulting from the vinyl ether process believed to be the main source of GenX discharge.

N.C. DEQ’s secretary, Michael Regan, has stated that it’s too early to say whether or not the company will be facing any legal punitive action, as they are not breaking any current laws. However, the tests described above will be paid for by Chemours.

How to Remove GenX from Water

Filtration Methods for Reducing the Effects of GenX Contamination

As mentioned earlier, the chemical’s genetic structure makes the chemical incredibly resistant to existing water treatment processes and degradation systems to minimize drinking water contamination.

In fact, Dr. Knappe has admitted that even the most advanced water treatment protocols currently in use are wholly inadequate in removing or even reducing GenX in water supplies. At present, the best method for cutting back on GenX contamination and its effects is preventing the chemical from making contact with the water supply completely. While the movement to do so is underway, residents are advised to use water filtration systems regardless.

Although more research needs to be done on the removal of GenX from the water, granular activated carbon (GAC) filters and reverse osmosis (RO) systems are the most effective at considerable reduction of the GenX contaminant.

In basic terms, reverse osmosis works on a molecular level, using a selective membrane designed to only allow the incredibly small water molecules to pass through. High water pressure is used to force the water through this membrane, and almost all pollutants are filtered out as a result.

Hopes are that the GenX contamination in filtered water will be similarly removed by the process, but verifying the results is still plagued by the underlying issue creating difficulty in using regular filtration systems in the first place – GenX’s molecular structure.

Regardless, studies continue to test the effect of reverse osmosis in the hopes that it will prove a viable option.

The only remaining concern – should it be proven 100% effective – is the expense of setting up reverse osmosis filtration systems at sites such as the CFPUA’s Sweeney Water Treatment Plant. Because reverse osmosis is such a complex process, setting up the necessary equipment could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

How to Remove GenX from Water: Home Water Treatment Options for GenX Contamination

Since water treatment plants and other water supply sources are unlikely and unable to integrate viable options any time soon, it is highly recommended that homeowners consider a reverse osmosis purification system and/or granular activated carbon filters to help remove GenX from their water.

Please be aware that NO water filtration system from any manufacturer has been certified to completely remove GenX specifically to date. This is not to say existing systems do not remove GenX, but that they have not been tested and certified to do so. As a result, reverse osmosis water purification and granular activated carbon filters is the best bet for homeowners to protect themselves.

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Updates on GenX in water affecting Wilmington, North Carolina and other places in North Carolina (NC)

Monday June 19th: To determine the amount of GenX in the water, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality will start taking water samples along the Cape Fear River. The water will be sampled from12 locations and sent to lab in Colorado for analysis. When the amount of GenX in water is determined, hopefully scientists will be able to determine what, if any, health effects GenX has on the North Carolina residents being affected by GenX.

More Updates on GenX in water in North Carolina (NC)

Wednesday 21st: Press Release from Chemours Company:

“The Chemours Company (Chemours) (NYSE: CC) today announced that it will capture, remove, and safely dispose of wastewater that contains the byproduct GenX generated from fluoromonomers production at its manufacturing plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Trace GenX amounts in the Cape Fear River to date have been well below the health screening level announced by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services on June 12, 2017, and the company continues to believe that emissions from its Fayetteville facility have not impacted the safety of drinking water.  However, Chemours will take these additional steps, embracing its role as a significant employer and member of the community. The capture and removal of this wastewater will commence on June 21, 2017. This action complements the abatement technology already put in place at the Fayetteville site in 2013.”

Friday 23rd: On Wednesday (June 21, 2017), a six-member panel spoke at a forum to address community concerns about GenX in water in Wilmington, NC and surrounding areas. Nearly 300 people attended the forum. The forum highlighted there is more than just GenX in the water. Susanna Brander– who is a professor and ecotoxicologist at the University of North Carolina Wilmington- said: “I think it’s important to know there’s a lot in the news about GenX … but (the study) found six other chemicals.” She also said how “Unfortunately, there is not a lot known about GenX.”

All this raises huge concerns about the lack of regulations that truly are present when it comes to drinking water. It’s more important than ever to use a water filtration.

Sunday 25th: The scientists that discovered the presence of GenX in water also discovered other chemicals and contaminants in the water from the Cape Fear River. One of those chemicals is 1,4-dioxane. 1,4-dioxane has caused liver and kidney damage in laboratory rats when they drank water containing the chemical. In fact, the EPA has identified 1,4-dioxane as a “probable human carcinogen” that needs to be studied further. 1,4-dioxane is an industrial solvent found in products like paint strippers, varnishes, soaps, make-up, and antifreeze.

It’s important to point out that although GenX in water is just one of the many known contaminants affecting North Carolina water, the EPA did not include it in the list. Chemicals like 1,4-dioxane did though.

As information mounts about this pressing issue affecting the drinking water in North Carolina, it continues to become clear that people must filter their drinking water. A reverse osmosis system provides the best protection and certainly a whole house water filtration is beneficial as well.

Stay tuned for GenX in water updates as they become available.

All resources available upon request.

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