Earlier this month, members of a state science panel met at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington to review and discuss key issues concerning the GenX contamination issue in North Carolina. This GenX contamination meeting discussed topics such as the extent of the contamination, determining the public health goal, dealing with a lack of scientific information, and relaying accurate and understandable information to the public.
Those at the meeting included environmental scientists, toxicologists, and medical experts on the Secretary’s Science Advisory Board on Toxic Air Pollutants (NCSAB).
This board is chartered by the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and is composed of members with expertise in various areas. They work closely with the DEQ, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and the Division of Air Quality (DAQ).
In light of the recent GenX contamination issue, Gov. Roy Cooper expanded the size and scope of the board. Panel members include Tom Augspurger, Ecologist/Environmental Contaminants Specialist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Raleigh, and Detlef Knappe, a Professor at N.C. State University who has been very outspoken about water contamination issues.
Extent of Contamination
The main issue discussed at the meeting was GenX contamination of the Cape Fear River, as well as the areas in close proximity to Chemours’ Fayetteville plant. While water contamination is a known issue, the panel is also expanding their search to include testing for air contamination by GenX and other chemicals that can be converted to GenX after coming in contact with water. The DAQ is working with Chemours to begin gas emissions testing of stacks at the Fayetteville plant.
After recent news of finding a large concentration of GenX in a local farmer’s honey, the panel expressed concerns over food supply contamination by GenX and other unregulated chemicals. As such, they scheduled a meeting with the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS), which will take place some time this week.
Lack of Information
One of the key aspects of the contamination issue involves determining the state’s health goal for GenX exposure. Ideally, this limit would be the amount of acceptable exposure in the sense that no adverse effects are observed during a lifetime of exposure.
However, it is difficult to determine a health goal when there is a dearth of information where the effects of GenX on humans are concerned. To date, no scientific studies on human exposure to GenX have been conducted. While animal studies have taken place and demonstrate alarming side effects of GenX exposure, scientists and regulatory bodies are hesitant to apply those same risks to humans without additional data to support their claims. To further complicate matters, some of the information in these animal studies has been withheld by Chemours in the name of preserving “trade secrets.”
Informing the Public
An additional topic discussed by panel members was providing accurate information to the public in a clear and understandable manner. For example, once a definitive health goal is decided upon, that goal must be communicated to the public and its effects thoroughly explained.
The NCSAB will meet again at the end of this coming January, and we will report on the highlights of the meeting as they become available.
- GenX Cancers Overview
- Summary of Information
- Timeline: GenX Contamination of the Cape Fear River
- Timeline: GenX Study Results
- GenX: Cancer Case Evaluation Form
Written by: Heather Helmendach, Legal Assistant
Law Offices of Thomas J. Lamb, P.A.