UNCW researchers discuss findings on GenX after submitting report

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Discussing the latest findings about the many unknowns of GenX, that’s what several UNCW researchers did Wednesday afternoon just days after they delivered their final report to state lawmakers.

“Almost everything we do is brand new,” UNCW Chemistry/Biochemistry Professor, Brooks Avery said. “And it’s first time it’s been seen in rainwater for example. The first time it was seen in sediments, reported in sediments. So I think the most important thing that we need to know is that this is a very understudied compound.”

Under House Bill 56, UNCW received $250,000 to identify and quantify GenX — a potentially cancer-causing compound discharged into the Cape Fear River from the Chemours plant in Fayetteville.

“The discharge pipe is supposedly turned off,” UNCW Chemistry/Biochemistry Professor, Ralph Mead said. “But we’re still detecting GenX in the sediments. So I think the take home is that the sediments can act as a repository for GenX and possibly other compounds like it.”

Since November these researchers have been trying to figure out how GenX is transported throughout the environment.

During their research they discovered several things.

“This type of organic compound that has been deposited in the river for a long period of time, it would be very unusual not to find them in the sediments,” Avery said.

The highest levels of GenX in sediments were in Bladen County and Wilmington, but that can change.

“They’re very preliminary,” Avery said. “We may go back there in a month and find out that those sediments have shifted down stream.”

While collecting samples of GenX they found seven additional man-made chemical compounds.

A similar story at the Sweeney Water Treatment Facility, they also found several new polyflouroalkyl chemical compounds — all new compounds these researchers have yet to identify.

Researchers also tested the impact GenX has on baby oysters for one month.

“Even though we exposed oysters to very high levels of GenX, we found very little accumulation of GenX in oyster tissue,” UNCW Marine Science Professor, Aswani Volety said.

Researchers say one in four oysters exposed to 100 parts per billion of GenX died, but that’s nowhere near what is in the environment.

“From the limited information we have, oysters in the Cape Fear River are safe,” Volety said. “They don’t have any GenX levels at least in appreciable levels that are relevant for ecological functions.”

Lastly, researchers discussed rainwater with the presence of GenX found on UNCW’s campus in February.

They said it’s not good to have the compound in the rainwater, but it’s not concerning at this time.

“Certainly the concentrations that we are detecting are extremely low,” UNCW Chemistry Professor, Joan Willey said. “So in terms of being out in rain or the environment there’s absolutely no concern.”

But that’s not the case for everything.

“I think the main concern is about what it’s doing to crops at this point,” Willey said. “We’ve only analyzed three samples. We’ll know a lot more say in six months.”

Researchers said they have a lot of work ahead of them.

As for oyster testing, the next step is to collect tissue samples from oysters actually in the Cape Fear River.

Their funding runs until June of next year. They hope to release another report in the coming months.

To see the full report, click here.

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