What's In The Water - Nafion Byproducts 1 And 2

Jan 24, 2018

It’s well documented that there are a lot more questionable compounds in the Cape Fear River than GenX.  Two of those as-yet-unregulated compounds:  Nafion byproducts 1 and 2.  As part of our continuing coverage of local water contamination, WHQR takes a look at these byproducts in this edition of What’s in the Water?

In August scientists with the Environmental Protection Agency  told North Carolina officials they had identified two compounds they are calling Nafion byproducts 1 and 2 in the Chemours waste stream.

Scientists know very little about the health effects of Nafion byproducts 1 and 2. So while the Department of Health and Human Services set a health goal for GenX of 140 parts per trillion, DHHS has been unable to establish a health goal for Nafion byproducts.

In October, the EPA reported concentrations of Nafion byproduct 1 ranged from not being detected to 30,300 parts per trillion. For Nafion byproduct 2, the estimated concentrations ranged from 7,400 parts per trillion to 34,800 parts per trillion in the river near the Chemours plant in Fayetteville. 

Nafion itself is produced at the Chemours facility, and used in chemical processing, fuel cell technology, metal plating, hydrogen production, paints, and chlorine production.

Larry Cahoon is a biology professor at UNCW.

“We have no health and safety information on those things, to speak of. And so they are essentially unknowns. My take on it is there is similarity to a compound that is known, and is known to have some health issues associated with it. They are probably not good for us to drink either.”

In November, Chemours told the state it would stop all discharges from the Nafion process. 

A November test by H2GO, Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer, showed Nafion byproducts 1 and 2 in the ‘not detected’ to 3.7 ppt range.

H2GO stopped sampling water late last year, but will decide at its board meeting this week whether to resume.