Results from recent tests of the Ohio River downstream from the Chemours facility in Parkersburg, West Virginia are raising concerns among scientists over the company's “next generation” chemicals. Supposedly, these chemicals, such as “GenX,” are “safer” and less toxic than the perfluorooctanoic acid-based substances (PFOA, or C8) they were designed to replace.
In June, scientists discovered GenX in the waters of the Cape Fear River, which supplies drinking water for the city of Fayetteville, North Carolina. That chemical was generated by another Chemours plant in the area. When the news came out, it sparked massive public outcry – and Chemour's stock price plummeted as a result.
This week, Wall Street analysts are considering the implications, and whether or not these latest discoveries will mean a new round of litigation for DuPont and Chemours. Meanwhile, the EPA has started its own investigations – but considering how compromised that agency has become, it is questionable as to whether or not any meaningful help or enforcement will come from that direction.
The situation is shaping up to be the latest chapter of a tragic saga that has been going on since the 1980s. To Jeffery Dugas of the advocacy group Keep Your Promises DuPont, it's déjà vu. “History seems to be repeating itself,” he says, adding, “We don’t know if this chemical will have adverse health effects, but it has already contaminated drinking water.” Other officials have expressed their concerns as well. Woody White, a commissioner for New Hanover County, is demanding assurances about the safety of the water supply. “We worry, and we want more data as soon as possible,” he said.
There are very few peer-reviewed studies on GenX and its toxicity, but those that have been published raise serious concerns for scientists. Jamie DeWitt of East Carolina University is the author of one such study, and says, “GenX isn't as potent [as C8], but we are seeing some concerns.” Another peer-reviewed study found that water filtration equipment currently available is ineffective at removing C8.
Naturally, Chemours insists that GenX levels found in the Cape Fear River are “well below the health screening level” and “have not impacted the safety of drinking water.” Chemours itself has not taken any samples of the waste water being discharged into the river. Instead, the company has used a “model” in order to estimate GenX levels. More troubling, GenX is not the only chemical being released into the environment by Chemours. Biologist Larry Cahoon of the University of North Carolina Wilmington points out that a study conducted last year found a number of PFOA-based chemicals present in Cape Fear river water. He describes it as a “cocktail.”
While it is likely that the current situation in North Carolina will spawn more litigation against DuPont and Chemours, the wheels of justice turn slowly. Once the first C8 lawsuits were brought against DuPont, it took 16 years before the recent settlement was finally reached.