Written by: Michael Phillips
A Substantial Environmental Settlement
ROANOKE, VIRGINIA - In a significant development for the Roanoke Valley community, global chemical company Chemours Co. has reached an agreement to pay a minimum of $9.5 million for the treatment of water from the Spring Hollow reservoir, part of the region's public drinking water supply. This settlement follows the inadvertent contamination of the water with Hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid, commonly known as GenX.
The Contamination Unveiled
The Western Virginia Water Authority, responsible for managing the affected water supply, confirmed the settlement on Thursday. GenX, labeled a "forever chemical" due to its persistent nature in the environment, was released into the South Fork of the Roanoke River over a span of approximately seven years, subsequently affecting Spring Hollow.
Immediate Action and Long-Term Impact
The chemical was first detected in 2020 at levels significantly exceeding Environmental Protection Agency recommendations. In response, the water authority implemented a carbon filtering system at considerable cost to restore water quality, even before the source of contamination was identified.
Details of the Settlement
The settlement, which could potentially reach $12 million, accounts for past and future expenses incurred by the water authority. This includes the upkeep of the granular activated carbon used in the filtering system. Michael McEvoy, executive director of the authority, expressed satisfaction with the settlement, stating, "The Authority is pleased to have negotiated this settlement that benefits the Authority’s rate payers and avoids a costly legal proceeding with Chemours."
Origins of the Contamination
GenX, used in various consumer products, entered Spring Hollow from a Chemours plant in West Virginia. The hazardous compound was inadvertently transported by ProChem, a company in Elliston, leading to wastewater being discharged into the river and subsequently reaching Spring Hollow.
Monitoring and Reducing GenX Levels
Recent tests conducted on November 10 showed GenX levels in Spring Hollow at 37 parts per trillion, down from 55 parts per trillion in June. The EPA's health advisory recommends no more than 10 parts per trillion over a lifetime of consumption.
Health and Environmental Concerns
GenX falls under the category of "forever chemicals" or PFAS, known for their slow breakdown in the environment. These compounds, found in numerous consumer products, have raised health concerns due to their association with increased cancer risks, developmental harm, and compromised immune system functions.
The Broader Context
While the agreement between Chemours and the water authority is a positive step, it remains unclear if it is part of the larger nearly $1.2 billion settlement addressing PFAS contamination nationwide. A federal judge is expected to make a final decision on this settlement on December 14.
Chemours' Collaborative Approach
In their statement, Chemours expressed satisfaction with the reached settlement, emphasizing its collaboration with the Western Virginia Water Authority to support cleanup efforts and resolve the matter effectively.