Updated 5:40 p.m. | Dec. 5, 2017
The unregulated compound found in more than 80 drinking water wells near a chemical company's manufacturing facility in North Carolina has been found in a food product for the first time.
Tests found honey collected by a farmer about 2 miles southwest of the Chemours Co. plant outside Fayetteville had levels of the potentially harmful compound GenX nearly 15 times higher than the health goal set by state officials, The StarNews of Wilmington reported.
The result was reported by an analytical chemistry laboratory that the farmer hired to test his honey before reporting the results to state health officials, who advised environmental regulators, state Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Laura Leonard said Tuesday.
The farmer shared the honey with family and friends and doesn't sell it, but agreed to dispose of it after concerns raised by state environmental officials, state waste management director Michael Scott said Monday.
Officials are unsure if the viscosity of honey could have affected the test results, and have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for guidance.
Wilmington, Delaware-based Chemours uses GenX to make Teflon and other industrial products.
There are no federal health standards addressing GenX and the EPA classifies it as an "emerging contaminant" to be studied. Lack of information about the chemical, its prevalence and health effects has disturbed people across eastern North Carolina. GenX was detected in the treated drinking water for about 200,000 people in Wilmington, about 100 miles downstream along the Cape Fear River.
North Carolina's health agency this year developed a target level estimated to keep people who ingest the chemical safe over their lifetimes, but the target is not a legally enforceable limit.
The health goal of 140 parts per trillion is not a definitive mark above which somebody drinking the water will become sick, said John Vandenberg, the director of the EPA's National Center for Environmental Assessment in Research Triangle Park.
"If you're exposed to levels below that, there really is not likely to be a health concern," Vandenberg said. "If you're exposed to levels above that, we're not sure, and the higher you're above that, the more likely there will be (effects)."
GenX in tap water has also been a concern in the Netherlands, where Chemours also runs a chemical plant using the compound. A report by the country's public health institute, RIVM, last month declared drinking water was safe everywhere in the Netherlands at levels 5 to 15 times lower than the public-health guideline it set at about the same level as North Carolina's.
In 2009, DuPont, which spun off Chemours into a separate company two years ago, began using GenX to replace another fluorinated compound, perfluorooctanoic acid. In 2013, after decades of use, DuPont quit using PFOA to make coatings resistant to water, oil and stains.
Neighbors of DuPont's Parkersburg, West Virginia, plant claimed in more than 3,500 lawsuits that PFOA made them sick. A jury in July 2016 found Chemours and DuPont liable for a man's testicular cancer that he said was linked to a chemical emitted by the West Virginia plant.
The two companies agreed in February to pay nearly $671 million to settle further lawsuits.