Testing continues to determine level of GenX in Roanoke River
State environmental regulators and the Western Virginia Water Authority are continuing to test for GenX in the Roanoke River.
The source of the contamination has been traced to a company in Elliston called ProChem, but the water authority is trying to find out just how much of the compound is still reaching the river.
“We want to make sure that we test and repeat test to get information to make sure the river is clean before we take the chance of pumping any more water into our reservoir,” said Sarah Baumgardner, the Western Virginia Water Authority’s public relations director.
The water authority hired an engineering consulting company, Hazen & Sawyer, based out of Raleigh, North Carolina, to do ongoing testing the Roanoke River.
In freezing temperatures, two workers in bright-yellow vests and waders recently stood in the south fork of the Roanoke river, collecting sensors that will be able to show the levels of GenX in the water. So far, all of the previous tests showed a point in time for a particular day. The new results, which will show the cumulative amount of the compound in the river over a 30-day period, are due in about a month.
The workers collecting water samples were just across the street from ProChem, the company responsible for GenX reaching the river.
“The business has said they’re not discharging it anymore,” Baumgardner said.
A ProChem employee said in an email to Radio IQ that in September they stopped doing business with the company that was the source of the GenX contamination, and that they had been doing business with them since 2014.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality confirmed that Chemours is the name of the company ProChem had been working with.
GenX is the trade name for hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid, a chemical compound produced by Chemours, which is used to produce cars, semiconductors and airplanes.
Traces of GenX have still been detected in the river, based on results the water authority collected as recently as October. The results show less contamination than in September, but it still is not low enough to be safe to consume.
Contamination to Roanoke’s water supply have likely been going on for at least two years. Baumgardener said their company found traces of GenX in their Spring Hollow Reservoir as early as 2020, the first time they tested for the compound.
"It was part of a statewide effort by the Virginia Department of Health to see what kind of emerging compounds were present,” Baumgardner said.
But at that time there were no guidelines on whether the levels were safe to drink. Then this summer, the EPA released a health advisory for GenX, which says people who consume the compound over a lifetime have a higher risk of developing liver disease and some cancers.
The water authority stopped pumping water from the river into their Spring Hollow Reservoir in August, and they have enough water to last about three years. Baumgardner said the water reaching customers is now safe to drink, because it’s been filtered.