The EPA will propose new safety levels in a matter of weeks for a class of chemicals manufactured by the Chemours Co. that have triggered water contamination concerns across the country.
The Environmental Protection Agency is on pace to release draft safety levels by the end of September for the chemicals the company has been marketing as GenX, said Peter Grevatt, the EPA’s top drinking water official.
These numbers, also known as “toxicity values,” will attempt to define the thresholds for safe exposure to GenX chemicals through water, soil, air, and other media, Grevatt said. He spoke at an Aug. 29 conference of state environmental officials in Stowe, Vt.
The EPA will share these toxicity values with them before posting the numbers on the agency’s website, he told the officials. The values are part of a broader agency effort to assess contamination at Superfund sites and other locations.
“We want to share this with the states before it appears publicly so you can think about the implications for your programs,” Grevatt said.
Chemours didn’t respond to an email from Bloomberg Environment seeking comment.
GenX is part of the broader class of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. They are long-lasting in the environment and have been linked to a number of health problems.
Additional testing for these chemicals has shown high levels in some of the country’s water systems, especially those on or near military bases, where the chemicals were used in firefighting foam.
GenX has been an especially vexing problem in North Carolina, where Chemours had a manufacturing facility in Fayetteville that is now the subject of numerous lawsuits.
In addition to new safety levels for GenX, the EPA also will come out next month with numbers for the chemical perfluorobutane sulfonate, a component of the Scotchgard products produced by the 3M Co.
These numbers will be in draft form, and the public will have an opportunity to comment on them before they become final, Grevatt said.
While state officials at the Stowe conference could appreciate the EPA’s efforts to open up its process, many also would like to see more action from the agency.
Several states have taken measures to regulate these chemicals independently of the EPA. New Jersey is considering setting one of the nation’s first regulations that force water utilities to screen for PFAS, said the head of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, Catherine McCabe.
This has led to a confusing patchwork of differing regulations in different states.
Grevatt didn’t specify whether or when the EPA could set a nationwide standard. But he seemed to indicate that he thinks this might not be the best approach, given that contamination levels vary widely from community to community.
“It matters where you go to look,” he said. “If you go near known sources … then you’ll likely find elevated levels. This prompts the questions about what are the best tools to develop for states.”