Chemours appealing EPA’s stricter health advisory goal for GenX

This pipe carries water from upstream and discharges into the Cape Fear River in Wilmington. Before Chemours stopped discharging GenX into the river, this pipe was a source of the contamination, according to a former riverkeeper. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

Chemours announced today it has filed a legal challenge to the EPA’s new health advisory goal for GenX, a type of toxic perfluorinated compound, alleging the agency’s decision is not grounded in the best available science.

Chemours petitioned the Third Circuit Court for a review. The court covers New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as well as Delaware, where the company is based.

Roughly 1 million North Carolinians in the Lower Cape Fear River Basin are routinely exposed to GenX in their drinking water. Chemours’s Fayetteville Works plant, on the Cumberland/Bladen county line, is the source of the contamination for more than 6,200 private drinking water wells and several public water supplies.

Based on toxicology studies, on June 15 the EPA announced a new and more stringent health advisory goal for GenX in drinking water: 10 parts per trillion, compared with an earlier threshold of 70 ppt. Health advisory goals are not legally enforceable, but states often adopt them outright. They can also use the goals as guidance to set their own thresholds.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said last fall that a new GenX goal was pending, and that the science showed the compound is more toxic than previously thought.

Chemours alleges that the toxicity assessment, which serves as the basis for the health advisory, overstates the risk. Even before the EPA’s announcement last month, behind the scenes Chemours had been challenging the agency’s conclusions and asking for the toxicity assessment to be withdrawn and corrected.

The chemical industry, including major manufacturers of PFAS, have consistently downplayed the toxicity of their perfluorinated products. In 2018, Chemours claimed GenX was safe in groundwater and drinking water at concentrations as high as 70,000 ppt. Chemours paid NC State University professor Damien Shea for supplementary material that supported the company’s conclusions.

(Shea, a professor of environmental toxicology, had previous testified in federal court as an expert witness on behalf of BP, claiming that data showed there was no harmful exposure from petroleum-related chemicals released from the Deep Horizon oil spill.)

Yet independent scientists, using rat and mouse studies, have consistently found links between GenX exposure and certain health conditions: reproductive problems, low birth weight, high cholesterol and several types of cancers. The EPA’s new assessment said the liver “is particularly sensitive” to the effects of GenX.

In a tense exchange before a congressional committee in 2019, Chemours President of Fluoroproducts Paul Kirschman said the company would not compensate people harmed by the company’s contamination.

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Chemours appealing EPA’s stricter health advisory goal for GenX