Western Virginia Water Authority working to reduce compound chemical found in Spring Hollow reservoir

Published: Nov. 21, 2022 at 6:45 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Western Virginia Water Authority is working to reduce the amount of a chemical compound, hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid, in the Spring Hollow reservoir.

At Monday’s Roanoke City Council meeting, the executive director of the water authority said the department is increasing water testing and sampling at Spring Hollow, researching the compound and reworking the existing filtration program.

Western Virginia Water Authority found the chemical compound, HFPO-DA, or more commonly known as GenX, in Roanoke County’s main source of drinking water. The director of public relations explained how the water authority first detected it in 2021.

“When we first found it, it wasn’t a regulated compound, and didn’t have any health standards,” Sarah Baumgardner said. “But we wanted to know, where did it come from and what could we do to get rid of it.”

Initial investigations reveal the compound comes from the company, ProChem, Inc., discharging it into the Roanoke River. During the most recent testing sample, the water authority found Spring Hollow had 30-50 parts per trillion of the compound in its reservoir.

“One part per trillion is equivalent to approximately one second in 32,000 years,” Baumgardner said. “We’re talking very, very small amounts here.”

The compound level found in Spring Hollow is more than 20 parts higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recommended levels of 10 parts per trillion. The EPA issued a lifetime health advisory in June, saying long-term consumption of the compound could lead to problems with liver and kidney functions.

“EPA’s updated PFAS health advisories in June did include a health advisory for GenX, but EPA has not had any communication with Western Virginia Water Authority,” EPA spokesperson Terri White said in a statement. “Virginia Department of Health has been working with WVWA on GenX as the drinking water primary agency for the last several weeks.”

The water authority has been working with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Department of Health during the ongoing investigations.

“[The Department of Environmental Quality] will continue to monitor for the compound in nearby waters and will share more information with all interested parties as it becomes available,” DEQ spokesperson Irina Calos said. “We appreciate the Water Authority’s diligence in ensuring the availability of safe drinking water for customers.”

Baumgardner explained how the water authority is testing the reservoir water frequently.

“We’ve gotten the results back from our early October testing and so far, the finished drinking water that we send out to our customers was around 8.4 parts per trillion, below the 10 [parts per trillion] new standard set by the EPA,” Baumgardner said.

The work to remove the chemical compound is costing the water authority an estimated $1,000,000 per year.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a significant effect on rates but it will have to be factored into our rates,” executive director Mike McEvoy said.

The water authority sent a letter to Prochem, Inc. in October, telling it to stop discharging GenX. That’s still an active investigation.

Roanoke County and parts of Franklin County have been receiving drinking water from Carvins Cove while the water authority works to get rid of the chemical in Spring Hollow.

However, the executive director said at Monday’s city council meeting, even with the levels of the compound in water from Spring Hollow, that water is still safe to drink.