State Science Advisory Board talks GenX and other PFAS chemicals

PFAS testing in public wells
PFAS testing in public wells(Jack Bailey)
Published: Feb. 7, 2022 at 4:25 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - By now we’re all familiar with the Chemical called GenX and the release of it into the Cape Fear River, in part, due to the company Chemours. Close to when the compound was discovered, Governor Roy Cooper expanded the Secretary’s science advisory board to investigate the impacts of new and emerging chemicals.

On Monday, that board met to discuss what steps are being taken to address chemicals like GenX and other PFAS compounds.

Although chemicals like GenX have been known to officials for several years now, there are no regulations in place directly calling for the prohibition or banning of these compounds.

That is something that advocates say should change.

Although there have been court orders barring Chemours from releasing any more GenX into the Cape Fear River, the EPA and the state Department of Environmental Quality have yet to enact official regulations.

That’s part of the reason a group of environmental advocates restarted a federal lawsuit against the EPA. Even though people have known about PFAS and PFOS compounds for year, the health effects of them are largely unknown and that’s what the parties involved in the lawsuit are hoping to change.

La’Meshia Whittington is the deputy director of programs for the North Carolina Black Alliance, one of the groups suing the EPA. She says that she’s hopeful regulations will be put in place for chemicals like GenX, but says that won’t be the end of the battle.

“When we actually achieve the regulatory framework, when we achieve the legislation on the state and congressional on PFAS, we will have to be vigilant as advocates, as community, as policy stakeholders to look for the next chemical that the corporation is going to release because that’s the trend,” she said. “Once one chemical gets outlawed, another chemical is created and put to market that isn’t tested and then we’d be back in the same situation as we’ve seen time and time again.”

North Carolina is far from the only state struggling with PFAS, but Whittington says leaders have been slow to respond.

“Let’s be very clear, we’re not the only state who is impacted by PFAS, but we definitely [are] one of the slowest when pushing policy, regulatory framing, and actually holding the corporation accountable in testing,” she said.

Part of the difficulties with regulating chemicals is the process to do just that. Studies have to be approved, funded, conducted, and then results have to be analyzed by scientists. After those things happen, agencies like the EPA will suggest rules and open that up to public comment. Then, it’s up to those agencies to determine the best path forward.

On Monday, Aaryn Jones, who works for the EPA, offered to look at how the EPA is responding to PFAS chemicals. Although these things take time, the EPA has taken some action already.

“Last April we went and closed a loophole on new PFAS being proposed for use in commerce where we did not allow low volume exemptions to occur for PFAS because of the complexity of issues that arise,” she said.

Right now the lawsuit against the EPA is calling for the government to enact stricter regulations, and force companies like Chemours to pay for human impact studies, to find out how these chemicals affect your health.

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