UNC Wilmington solves mystery of GenX in rainfall


Add a little water and presto, you get a toxic downpour:

UNCW also tested rainwater samples to determine if GenX showed up there. When it did, they alerted the state and then tried to figure out where it was coming from. Ultimately, they determined that while GenX itself isn’t being spread through the air, a chemical that rapidly turns into GenX when mixed with water likely is coming from Chemours’ stacks.

Pam Seaton, the chair of UNCW’s department of chemistry and biochemistry, said, “The precusor to GenX at Chemours is what’s called an acid fluoride, and when it touches water it turns into GenX. What they emit, apparently, through the stacks at Chemours is the acid fluoride. ... We could actually see within minutes the precursor being converted to GenX, which then is wherever the rain takes it.”

I'd be willing to bet my last dollar that Chemours' chemists were well aware something like this would happen to those emissions, and I would also bet that installing some form of scrubbers could greatly reduce that effect. But that costs money, and you know what that means. Unless they are forced to install it, it ain't happening. GenX is also embedding itself into river bottom sediment, which means it will be seeping into the water for a long time even after all discharges have stopped:

The team developed a method to test for GenX in sediment, found it in four separate locations along the Cape Fear River and believes it has proven GenX is being detected in rain water because of the emissions of a related chemical that is part of the manufacturing process at Chemours’ Fayetteville Works facility. A separate UNCW team showed that juvenile oysters died at higher rates and filtered less water when exposed to GenX at levels of 100 parts per billion, but the chemical did not accumulate in them at high levels.

“Something’s being taken up into (the oysters), but it’s not bioaccumulating. So they’re filtering it in, but they’re also releasing that,” said Andrea Bourdelais, a research associate professor at UNCW’s Center for Marine Sciences.

UNCW’s report also said that while one to two juvenile oysters died at each of the no Genx, 1 ppb or 10 ppb levels, nine of 36 died at 100 ppb levels. Next, the team plans on collecting oysters from the Cape Fear to determine if GenX is found in their tissue.

This is one case where the lack of (bio) accumulation might be a bad thing. If you look at how wetlands function, water that circulates through them is filtered of many toxins by flora and fauna residing there, which is on top of the benefit of atmospheric carbon uptake (sequestration) that wetlands provide. But if these oysters are basically spitting GenX back out (can't say I blame them), it is not being diminished.