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Longer-term testing finds GenX chemical still present in Roanoke River

Two workers with an engineering consulting company collect sensors in the south fork of the Roanoke river. The sensors will be able to trace how much GenX has been in the water over the passed 30 days.
Roxy Todd
Radio IQ
Two workers with an engineering consulting company collect sensors in the South Fork of the Roanoke River in December.

Results from longer-term water testing this fall showed a so-called forever chemical was still present in parts of the Roanoke River.

The Western Virginia Water Authority conducted long-term testing from October to December in a number of locations on the Roanoke River and its branches near Elliston in Montgomery County.

Results returned this week showed a chemical called GenX was still present in the river’s South Fork downstream from the Elliston Wastewater Treatment Plant and on the river’s main stem near the Water Authority’s intake for the Spring Hollow Reservoir. "This is further data to confirm the location source of the GenX, and it confirms that GenX is still present in the river," Water Authority spokesperson Sarah Baumgardner wrote in an email. There were no detectable levels of GenX upstream of the wastewater plant or on the North Fork of the river.

The reservoir's intake has been shut off since August when GenX was detected in higher levels. The source of the chemical was traced to an Elliston company called ProChem that serviced equipment for a chemical plant. ProChem says it’s stopped doing that work.

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

Baumgardner said another round of long-term testing was started in December. "Once we are confident that GenX is no longer present in the source water, the Water Authority will consider resuming pumping water from the river into the reservoir," Baumgardner wrote.

The Spring Hollow Reservoir helps supply drinking water to parts of the Roanoke Valley. Officials believe it would last about three years if the intake is not reopened.

While elevated levels of GenX were detected in the reservoir before the intake was shut off, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and Virginia Department of Health said in November that "PFAS levels in the drinking water are acceptable for residents to consume, and levels will continue to be monitored."

David Seidel is Radio IQ's News Director.
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