GenX in Water: Health Concerns, FAQs, and Filtration Methods
It was June 2017 when news broke about a decades-long chemical discharge into North Carolina’s Cape Fear River. Until then, residents had no clue a highly toxic industrial chemical had infiltrated their drinking water supplies. They had been drinking the contaminated water, feeding it to their pets, and using it for cooking, baking, preparing beverages, and other purposes, unaware of the chemical’s presence, let alone the possible health risks and how to remove it.
It wasn’t until chemical company Chemours (a spinoff of the chemical giant DuPont) tested the residents’ wells that they discovered that the water contained unsafe levels of GenX, one of the newest in a group of manufactured compounds known as fluorochemicals. Further investigation found GenX in private drinking water wells at multiple sites along the Cape Fear River at levels up to 30 times higher than North Carolina’s current health goal.
Studies later revealed that, for over three decades, the Chemours facility had been dumping wastewater containing GenX and other fluorochemicals into the nearby Cape Fear River, which provides drinking water to an estimated 250,000 residents downstream.
Now, yet another harmful chemical exists in the environment and possibly in drinking water. Let’s talk about it.
What is GenX?
GenX is a trade name for a chemical introduced by DuPont in 2009 to replace a closely related fluorochemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (also known as PFOA or C8). For decades, PFOA was used to make Teflon, a non-stick chemical coating for cookware, but was phased out due to health concerns. With C8 coming off the market, DuPont developed GenX as a substitute surfactant.
GenX belongs to a larger group of human-made chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS contain strongly linked chains of carbon and fluorine, which means they don’t break down easily.
This unique property has earned them the nickname “forever chemicals.” It has also made them a key ingredient in many everyday consumer products, including non-stick cooking pans, stain-resistant carpets, waterproof clothing, and food packaging.
But that toughness has a downside: the chemicals stick around rather than degrade quickly once released into the environment. They also build up in our bodies after being ingested.
How Do GenX Chemicals Get into Drinking Water?
GenX chemicals enter the environment at sites where they are made, used, disposed of, or spilled. These chemicals can be transported through rainwater run-off and infiltrate nearby surface water (lakes, ponds, etc.). They can also seep through the soil and migrate into groundwater (underground drinking water sources).
Another route is through industrial waste discharge. A common practice for factories and chemical manufacturers is to allow wastewater with PFAS byproducts into a waterbody directly through a drainage pipe, direct discharge effluent, or indirectly through a leak or spill. Because PFAS are long-lasting and not easily broken down by sunlight or other natural processes, they may remain in the water for many years.
This becomes problematic when these contaminated water bodies are used as a primary drinking water source. If a public water system or your private well gets its water from a surface or groundwater source that is contaminated with GenX chemicals, and the water is not adequately treated to remove them, the substances may crop up in your drinking water and pass into your body when you ingest the contaminated water.
Why Should We Even Care About GenX and Chemicals Like It?
GenX chemicals are nearly as toxic as other PFAS compounds, despite being touted by Chemours and other prominent players in the chemical industry as a supposedly safer and more sustainable alternative. This means GenX chemicals could cause many of the same health complications as different types of PFAS, such as PFOS and PFOA (more on this later).
But here’s the scary part: Hundreds of the products we use and interact with daily are made using GenX chemicals. GenX has even turned up in public drinking water sources far away from the origin of the contamination. What’s more, GenX chemicals are persistent in the environment and the body, which means they don’t break down and can remain there for decades.
What Are the Health Effects of GenX Chemicals?
The effects of GenX on human health are still something of a mystery. Researchers in North Carolina have started the first human health study, but if past human scientific research is anything to go by, this could take months to years to complete. However, past GenX studies in animals could give us an idea of what health effects humans could get from GenX exposure.
In laboratory animal studies, effects of GenX exposure included developmental changes such as delayed bone growth, slowed mammary gland development, and accelerated male sexual development. Other GenX exposure effects included liver changes, reduced immune response, decreased thyroid hormone levels, and increased kidney weight. Increased incidence of Leydig cell tumors in the testes of male rats has been reported, but it is unclear whether this type of tumor is relevant to humans. Increased pancreatic tumors have also been observed in male rats.
Animal toxicity studies are a helpful starting point for understanding the potential health effects of GenX. However, scientists need more human research studies to understand the relevance to human health.
Does The EPA Regulate GenX in Drinking Water?
For such a dangerous and widespread chemical, you’d think the EPA would regulate GenX in drinking water. Unfortunately, there are no regulatory limits, and municipalities are not required to test for it.
Is There a “Safe” Limit for GenX in Tap Water?
Yes. On June 15, 2022, the EPA issued a final lifetime health advisory for GenX chemicals in drinking water. Backed by extensive peer-reviewed science, the advisory identifies a GenX level of 10 parts per trillion (ppt) in drinking water to protect communities from the health effects of GenX exposure. Bear in mind, however, that this is just a health goal and therefore cannot be enforced.
Does Your Drinking Water Contain GenX Chemicals?
Whether your drinking water comes from a municipality or a private well, it likely contains PFAS, which may include GenX chemicals. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell if there are “forever chemicals” in your water by looking at it, smelling it, or tasting it. The best way to find out if your drinking water is tainted with toxic PFAS like GenX is to:
- Check EWG’s Tap Water Database. The EWG’s Tap Water Database provides access to water quality information on a particular city or state based on the ZIP code you enter. It displays the water utility’s details, such as its location, the estimated number of people served, the period for which the data is available, and the source (groundwater or surface water). The tool will also tell you the total number of contaminants detected in the water supply and how many of them exceed EWG health guidelines. So, punch in your city or ZIP code and see if any PFAS contaminants are reported in your water supply.
- Check your water quality report. You can contact your local water provider and request a copy of their latest water quality report. After receiving the document, read through it to see if there have been any recent PFAS contamination reports in your area.
- Get your water tested for GenX at a certified laboratory. Laboratory testing is the most reliable way to determine if your drinking water contains GenX chemicals and other PFAS compounds. This method involves sending a water sample from your tap to a local laboratory for testing. While often precise and thorough, this method can be costly and time-consuming, depending on the laboratory. But despite that, it’s a great way to know if your water is tainted with PFAS and perhaps what specific PFAS are present.
How To Remove GenX from Drinking Water: Home Water Treatment Options for GenX Contamination
Currently, many water treatment plants’ standard water treatment systems aren’t fit to remove GenX from water. Research into filtration methods for GenX is ongoing, and new information will be accessible as it becomes available. However, preliminary research suggests that a reverse osmosis (RO) filter system is the best method to remove GenX from water. Filtering water through activated charcoal or activated carbon has not been proven effective at removing GenX.
Therefore, we highly recommend you purchase and install a reverse osmosis water filtration system. Even if your water doesn’t contain PFAS, a system like this will help to prevent possible future PFAS contamination in your drinking water.
Springwell’s SWRO reverse osmosis filters are among the best RO systems to combat GenX and other PFAS in tap water. They combine reverse osmosis and carbon filtration in their 4-stage process to remove dangerous forever chemicals like GenX, PFOA, PFOS, and many other chemicals and contaminants regularly found in drinking water, such as lead, arsenic, chlorine, and fluoride.
The SWRO filters are point-of-use (POU) systems, meaning they filter water at specific points in your home. They also fit neatly under almost any kitchen sink and produce up to 75 gallons of treated, PFAS-free water daily.
Contact Springwell today to learn more about our reverse osmosis home water filters and how they can help remove PFAS and other toxic chemical contaminants from your drinking water.
Concerned About GenX in Drinking Water?
If you live in a state without water quality standards for GenX and other PFAS in drinking water, it’s essential to understand that these harmful chemicals could be present in your tap water. And as you’ve read in this article, exposure to these human-made compounds may increase the risk of various health problems in humans – from diabetes to certain cancers.
You can find out if your water is contaminated with PFAS chemicals by checking the EWG’s Water Database, requesting a recent water quality report from your local water provider, or getting your water tested by a certified laboratory.
But whether or not your water contains PFAS, we advise you to use a certified filter to remove GenX, PFOA, PFOS, and other chemicals and contaminants commonly found in drinking water.
- The Toxic Effects of PFAS in Drinking Water
- PFOS & PFOA: The Dangers of ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Drinking Water
- PFAS Exposure May Raise Diabetes Risk in Middle-Aged Women, Study Reveals
- What EPA’s New PFAS Plan Could Mean for America’s Drinking Water
- EPA’s New PFAS Rule Lacks Details About Drinking Water