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Occupational & Environmental Epidemiology

GenX and other PFAS in the Cape Fear River Basin

In June 2017, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) was notified of a chemical, called GenX, found in drinking water sourced from the lower Cape Fear River. GenX and other emerging PFAS were found in the river and drinking water in a study led by researchers at North Carolina State University. The Chemours facility in Fayetteville was identified as the source of the GenX chemical. Further investigation by the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) found GenX in private drinking water wells near the Chemours facility.

To learn more about the ongoing DEQ investigation and enforcement actions, visit their GenX Investigation webpage.

What is GenX?

GenX is a member of a family of chemical compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are human-made chemicals that do not occur naturally in the environment. These chemicals have broad uses in commercial products such as food packaging, nonstick coatings, and firefighting foam.

GenX is a trade name for one unregulated PFAS used in manufacturing nonstick coatings and for other purposes. It is also produced as a byproduct of certain manufacturing processes.

Where is GenX found in the environment?

GenX and other emerging PFAS have been found in the Cape Fear River and small ponds and lakes near the Chemours facility. These chemicals have also been found in groundwater and rainwater around the facility. Chemours measured GenX in air being released from the facility operations areas.

For more information about environmental monitoring for GenX and other PFAS, visit DEQ’s GenX Investigation webpage.

How can GenX affect my health?

There is limited information about the health effects of GenX. Laboratory studies on animals show negative effects to the liver and blood, along with cancer of the liver, pancreas, and testicles. The relevance of these animal studies to human health is unknown. Limited information from a small exposure investigation suggests that GenX may not stay in the body for a long period of time.

The potential human health effects of many other new or emerging PFAS are unknown. DHHS continues to work with federal partners to review all new health and toxicity information about these compounds as it becomes available.

What is the GenX provisional drinking water health goal?

In July 2017, DHHS set a provisional health goal of 140 nanograms per liter (ng/L) or parts per trillion (ppt) for GenX in drinking water. This is a level of GenX in drinking water below which no adverse health effects would be expected over a lifetime of consumption. This level was calculated using the available toxicity studies and to protect the most vulnerable populations (i.e. bottle-fed infants). This Questions and Answers document provides additional information on the calculation of the provisional drinking water health goal.

The provisional drinking water health goal is used to provide information to affected communities and residents about potential risks from exposure to GenX through drinking water. The provisional drinking water health goal is not a regulatory level and is not a boundary line between a “safe” or “dangerous” level of GenX. Additionally, the provisional drinking water health goal is for drinking water only and cannot be compared to GenX levels in other environmental media (i.e. rainwater or fish).

As new information becomes available, the provisional health goal may change.

What is the Division of Public Health doing about PFAS?

The Health Assessment, Consultation & Education (HACE) program within DHHS works with other state, local, and federal partners to evaluate health concerns and provide recommendations to protect human health. The HACE program is:

  • Reviewing environmental data regarding exposure to PFAS to better understand potential public health implications.
  • Conducting public health assessments for the affected communities.
  • Continuing to monitor and help answer questions about the results (when available) of a North Carolina State University GenX Exposure Study and any other PFAS biomonitoring studies.
  • Continuing to provide affected communities with health information and assisting with outreach and health education.
  • Evaluating all new health and toxicity information as it becomes available. This includes frequent coordination with our federal partners at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), EPA, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), as well as discussions with other states dealing with PFAS contamination.
  • Continuing to provide requested information to the SAB for their review and recommendations.

In addition to these activities, DHHS has completed investigations into the prevalence of certain types of cancer and birth defects in the Lower Cape Fear Region. Overall, most cancer and birth defects rates were similar to state rates. Only a comprehensive research study can provide information about whether a specific exposure might be associated with an elevated prevalence of a specific birth defect or type of cancer.

DHHS has also worked with the Cumberland and Bladen County Health Departments and the CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to test for GenX and other PFAS in blood and urine samples from approximately 30 residents living close to the Fayetteville Works facility. This summary report details the results of this investigation.

Public Health Assessment

The HACE program is responsible for evaluating public health impacts from exposure to toxic substances released into the environment throughout North Carolina. These evaluations are frequently completed as public health assessments, through a cooperative agreement with the ATSDR. The HACE program has completed or is currently working on the following public health assessments related to PFAS in the Cape Fear River Basin:

  1. Lower Cape Fear Region
    The public health assessment for people on public water supplies that draw water from the Lower Cape Fear River is currently under development. We are in the process of reviewing the available environmental data.
  2. Around the Chemours Fayetteville Works Facility
    Environmental sampling in the communities around the Chemours Fayetteville Works Facility remains ongoing. We are reviewing data as we receive it from DEQ or other agencies and providing public health recommendations as necessary to protect people from potentially harmful exposures. Due to the ongoing investigation and sampling, the public health assessment is still under development.

    DEQ sampled the lake at Camp Dixie for GenX and other PFAS in October 2017, since the lake is located close to the Chemours Fayetteville facility. The HACE program evaluated these sampling results and issued a letter to the director of the camp. HACE concluded that exposure to GenX at levels measured in October 2017 while recreating in the lake is not expected to harm people’s health.
  3. Upper Cape Fear Region
    A study led by researchers at North Carolina State University noted elevated levels of legacy, or older, PFAS in the Upper Cape Fear River Basin. We have recently obtained these data from the researchers leading this study and will be working with N.C. DEQ to determine next steps.

Other Resources

FAQs and Fact Sheets

DHHS Reports to SAB

Press Releases

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