Everything you need to know about GenX

North Carolinians on the coast are fired up that they’ve found GenX in their drinking water, well water, school tap water, honey, and the Cape Fear river, and the legislature plans on passing legislation to address it during their short special session starting on January 10th.

North Carolinians on the coast are fired up that they’ve found GenX in their drinking waterwell waterschool tap waterhoney, and the Cape Fear river, and the legislature plans on passing legislation to address it during their short special session starting on January 10th.

What is GenX? It’s not just the last generation to make a mixtape.

GenX is part of a chemical family known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAs. PFAs include chemicals known as PFOA and PFOS. These chemicals have been found to affect growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children, lower a woman’s ability to get pregnant, interfere with the body’s natural hormones, increase cholesterol, affect the immune system and increase the risk of cancer. There have been no human studies on GenX, but animal studies show that GenX results in the same adverse health effects in mice as its closely related chemical, PFOA.

Why should I care? Because it’s everywhere.

Scientists only just discovered its presence in the Cape Fear river in 2012, but the Chemours plant has been dumping it since the1980’s from their Fayetteville plant. Even more alarming, residents of the Cape Fear River Water Utility found out in May of 2016 that GenX has been bypassing the utility’s filtration system and entering their drinking water.

Is GenX regulated? Of course not.

GenX is an unregulated chemical because of its unknown effects on humans. The EPA created health guidelines for PFOA and PFOS, the sister chemicals to GenX, but these guidelines are not enforceable. Some states have decided to implement state regulations for PFAS and PFOS based on the EPA guidelines, but not North Carolina. In fact, North Carolina passed the Hardison Amendment in 2014, which forbids state agencies from imposing any environmental regulations that are more restrictive than those set by the federal government. No federal government regulation of GenX means no state regulation of GenX. Nevertheless, Chemours was supposed to tell the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality all of the chemicals that they would be dumping, and it looks like they lied about GenX being on that list.

And more good news…In a recent House committee hearing, the director of the North Carolina’s Health and Human Services said that there are over 80,000 chemicals and scientists only understand a very tiny fraction of them. Cool. 

What is being done? Chemour lost its permit, is being sued, and has to give bottled water to residents.

DEQ recently revoked Chemour’s permit because they had another GenX spill in October and covered it up. The first class action lawsuit has been filed against the company. DEQ recently directed Chemours to give bottled water to the nearby residents whose wells have high levels of GenX.

What is the legislature doing about this? Not enough, according to environmental groups.

The House Committee on North Carolina River Quality has come up with a draft bill for the January special session, but most environmental groups oppose the legislation. The Southern Environmental Law Center and several Riverkeeper Alliances are not happy that the legislation will not result in any action until 2019. Furthermore, the legislation mostly directs DEQ to conduct studies, and communicate with Health and Human Services and nearby states, but doesn’t provide any funding for an already strangled and starved agency. Over the last decade, the DEQ’s budget has been cut by over 60%, even though the state budget grew by $3 billion. The DEQ’s water quality staff has been reduced by 41% in regional offices since 2011. About 40% of water quality permits in the state are expired, but DEQ does not have the staff or resources to get through them. The legislature passed at least 5 bills this year that reduce water quality regulations, and granted only $435,000 of the $2.8 million requested by the Department of Environmental Quality and Human and Health Services to fully remedy the situation.