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DEQ: Source of Gen X substance in Roanoke River identified

The state Department of Environmental Quality has traced the source of a substance known as Gen X to an industrial facility that is connected to the Elliston Wastewater Treatment plant. A news release did not identify the facility, but said both the facility and treatment plant operators have been told to take all necessary action to reduce and eliminate the source.

The Western Virginia Water Authority later named the ProChem company as the source of the substance. A statement from the authority said ProChem performed work for a company known to use Gen X. A ProChem manager told the Roanoke Times the company has stopped all work for the Chemours company.

Gen X is a type of chemical that has components that do not break down over time. That’s why they’re sometimes referred to as forever chemicals.

The Western Virginia Water Authority first detected the chemical in its Spring Hollow Reservoir and in treated drinking water in August and shut off its intake from the Roanoke River. Investigators traced the chemical up the river to the Elliston plant last month.

Thursday’s news release says the Virginia Department of Health found PFAS levels in the drinking water to be acceptable and will continue to monitor them.

Complete news release from Va. DEQ:

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has received information from the Western Virginia Water Authority (WVWA) regarding results that identified GenX, a type of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substance – also known as “PFAS” – in source water and drinking water in the South Fork Roanoke River watershed. PFAS are widely used, long-lasting chemicals with components that do not break down naturally over time. The science regarding PFAS in the environment, including sampling methods and laboratory analysis, continues to evolve.

DEQ and WVWA, along with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) are working to confirm sources of the contamination and identify next steps. VDH has confirmed that PFAS levels in the drinking water are acceptable for residents to consume, and levels will continue to be monitored.

In August, WVWA notified its customers of elevated PFAS levels found in their drinking water reservoir along the Roanoke River and in treated drinking water. Since then, DEQ and WVWA have been working to identify sources that may have contributed to the contamination. Additional samples collected in October indicate that the source of the PFAS may be an industrial facility that discharges into the Elliston Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is operated by the Montgomery County Service Authority. The treatment plant discharges water approximately five miles upstream from the WVWA water intake, and initial test results show significantly high levels of PFAS in water discharged from the plant to the Roanoke River. Since detection of contamination in the Roanoke River earlier this year, WVWA has not pumped water from the river into the reservoir.

“DEQ, WVWA, and VDH are committed to quickly and efficiently utilize all necessary resources to protect human health and the environment,” said DEQ Director of Regional Operations Jeffery Steers. “DEQ and WVWA have notified the Elliston Wastewater Treatment Plant and their industrial user, and expect all necessary action to be taken to reduce and eliminate the source to the South Fork of the Roanoke River.”

VDH is coordinating additional funding and testing in the watershed to ensure the continued safety of drinking water. DEQ and WVWA will continue enhanced sampling of the river to evaluate the presence of PFAS and determine next steps.

Updated: November 11, 2022 at 2:09 PM EST
Information from the Western Virginia Water Authority was added Friday afternoon.
David Seidel is Radio IQ's News Director.