Read the full article by Satchel Walton (Kentucky Green Report)

“In the summer of 2017, North Carolinians living along the Cape Fear river learned that there was something to fear in their river. Headlines splashed across the front page of the Wilmington Star News announcing the discovery of high levels of a little-known toxic chemical contaminating their drinking water. 

Hexafluoropropylene oxide-dimer acid, usually referred to as ‘GenX’, has been confirmed as a carcinogen in rat tests. It is used in manufacturing in a former DuPont plant near Fayetteville and is released into the river. 

It prompted protests in Wilmington, 460 news articles in the Wilmington Star News and scores of community meetings with angry residents. As a result, the water districts along the Cape Fear River are spending tens of millions of dollars to upgrade their treatment systems to remove GenX from the drinking water. The water districts have sued Dupont spinoff Chemours Chemical seeking to recover the costs of the upgrades.  

But there is not just one, but two Chemours plants in the United States polluting rivers with GenX. The second Chemours plant is on the Ohio River. The major city in the U.S. with the second most GenX in its drinking water? According to a study released earlier this year by the Environmental Working Group, that would be Louisville, Kentucky.

There have been no protests in Louisville about it, and no coverage in the Courier-Journal (though some from WFPL). Unlike the water companies in North Carolina, Louisville Water Company has no immediate plans to install upgrades to address the contamination.  

GenX is part of a class of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).  PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that do not break down in the environment, giving them their nickname of ‘forever chemicals’. 

For decades, DuPont used the forever chemical PFOA to manufacture its popular non-stick cookware coating Teflon. PFOA’s toxic effects are now well known to the public. 

Lawsuits against Dupont that brought PFOA’s health dangers to light have received widespread attention in the documentary ‘The Devil We Know’ and the film ‘Dark Waters’. PFOA was proven to cause elevated levels of thyroid disease, testicular and kidney cancer and ulcerative colitis in humans.

DuPont began phasing out its use of PFOA in 2006. GenX, introduced into Teflon in 2009, was supposed to be PFOA’s safe substitute. That may not be the case. 

DuPont’s internal studies of GenX going as far back as the early 60s had shown deadly results when scientists exposed rats to small quantities of the chemical, and scientists advised the company that if there was a possibility of human exposure to the chemical they should consider conducting further studies. As independent scientists study GenX, the chemical is showing potentially deadly effects similar to those of its better known precursor.

‘They replaced it with what they thought was a safer alternative, the short chain chemical, and they thought that would be safer and less persistent, but what they’re finding is that that’s not really the case,’ said Dr. Judy Schreiber, co-author of a National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) risk assessment of GenX and other forever chemicals. ‘They’re finding very similar results from exposure to GenX chemicals: effects on your kidney, blood, immune system, child development and so forth.’

GenX hasn’t been used and studied for long enough outside the industry to have conclusive results on its human health effects. Some research has indicated that it may accumulate less in the human body than PFOA, but rat and other animal studies are a cause for concern according to many.

‘Almost every known human carcinogen that has been adequately tested in animals has shown a response in animals, so I think that when you see a strong response in animals it is likely the same thing will happen at least in some people,’ said Linda Birnbaum, the former director of the National Toxicology Program and the National Institute for Environmental Health Science. 

The federal EPA does not regulate the release of GenX or its levels in drinking water. While its health advisory level recommends no more than 70 parts per trillion of combined PFOS and PFOA in drinking water, it currently has no health advisory level for GenX. 

Dr. Schreiber’s study with the NRDC suggested that while there was a considerable level of uncertainty, the level at which there would be no expected health risk from GenX would be lower than one part per trillion. 

The study from the Environmental Working Group found 22 parts per trillion of GenX in Louisville’s drinking water, the highest level of any sampled site except for Brunswick County, North Carolina. 

Testing commissioned by the Louisville Water Company (LWC) reveals that while that 22 parts per trillion level is significantly higher than the average, Louisville’s drinking water has levels of GenX and other PFAS chemicals that are concerning based on independent studies of PFAS health effects…”