As we have followed the GenX issue in Wilmington, NC, we have noted, much like many other environmental incidents, a lot of misinformation and disinformation flying around as the citizens pour through it all, seeking facts about what amounts to a very complex and confusing subject matter.
Today, we’d like to translate the Levin Papantonio law firm’s statements about why they are filing a lawsuit over GenX contamination in the Cape Fear River. We will take their own published statements and offer a real world translation, paragraph by paragraph, and finally we’d like to remind everyone that we are a self-funded organization that raises no funds and as a result no one owns us or our opinions:
According to The Intercept, it was actually EPA scientists that discovered the existence of GenX in 2012, as they were doing testing in the Cape Fear River, trying to determine what chemical DuPont has created to replace C8, a substance used in the process for manufacturing Teflon.
The law firm claims the chemical can cause cancer, but the there is very little science confirming this statement. In reality, the study they are citing was conducted by administering water to rats, with a level of 70,000 parts per trillion, or one-hundred times the amount of the average level detected in the Cape Fear River: 631 parts per trillion.
At this time, there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that the levels of GenX in the Cape Fear can cause cancer or organ diseases in humans, there have been no reported cases of cancer or organ disease, and nor has there been a cancer or illness study conducted by the Center for Disease Control.
What we are dealing with here is a case of apples and oranges. Information about C8 has no relevance in the GenX case. In fact, a Biologist at the University of Wilmington was quick to point out that even though GenX is from the same family of chemicals as PFOA and PFOS, that they are synthesized very in a very different manner. “Dr. Brander is quick to point out that the chemistry between these two compounds is different.”
“If you look at C8 it’s a long chain of carbons with fluorines. So carbon-fluorine bonds which is a very strong bond. They put an oxygen in the middle of that chain, for GenX, and the thinking behind that seems to be ‘well it’ll be less persistent, it’ll be easier to breakdown in the environment, it’ll be metabolized more quickly, by humans, and so it won’t be as persistent. That might in fact be true, but the only way to know that is to do further studies.”
Of course, the last paragraph in the law firm’s statement details out, explicitly, the six-hundred seventy million reasons why they are filling this lawsuit, while appearing to be delivering intentionally misleading information, or disinformation. Considering their “fifteen years of extensive litigation” even if they are not scientists they should at least have a layman’s understanding of the subject matter, one could reasonably surmise.
The law firm is correct in stating that GenX is not regulated by federal and state governments. However, when contacted, a US EPA agency spokesperson stated that the US EPA is working to establish a regulated level. Their statement is as follows:
“[The] EPA is committed to protecting public health and supporting states and public water systems as the appropriate steps to address the presence of GenX in drinking water are determined. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA undertakes extensive evaluations of contaminants and uses the best available peer reviewed science to identify and regulate contaminants that present meaningful opportunities for health risk reduction. While EPA has not established a drinking water regulation, health advisory or health based benchmark for GenX in drinking water, the agency is working closely with the states and public water systems to determine the appropriate next steps to ensure public health protection.”
Notice in Levin Papantonio’s statement, the insertion of the term “if any” which suggests that there could potentially be no federally allowable level GenX which meets or exceeds State and Federal drinking water regulations. This is actually impossible because the chemical in the water can be so diluted as to pose virtually no risk to a drinking water customer, and the EPA rule would have to allow for a reasonable margin of error.
Going back to our previous statement, the law firm then starts talking apples and oranges again, bringing up the subject of C8. What concerns us is their use of the parts per billion (ppb) measurement, which has the effect of implying much higher levels of GenX by taking the parts per trillion (ppt) measurement, and converting it to parts per billion (ppb), using a decimal conversion.
While this resulting 631 ppt maybe be nine times the advisory level for C8, this is the law firm taking two unrelated subject matters, mixing them together, giving the appearance that GenX is as dangerous as C8 and that the advisory/recommended levels from the latter apply to the former, and that similar rules would apply to both, when this is patently false.
At the time of this writing the Department of Health and Human Services has issued the statement:
“The GenX levels detected in 2013-2014 would be expected to pose a low risk to human health.”
Discovery of GenX: https://theintercept.com/2016/03/03/how-dupont-concealed-the-dangers-of-the-new-teflon-toxin/
Wilmington Biologist: http://whqr.org/post/genx-new-water-testing-begins-week#stream/0
DHHS statement and lab rat study: http://whqr.org/post/genx-dhhs-health-effects-statement-genx#stream/0