[Legal Analysis] Emerging Thoughts: A Principled Framework for Regulating GenX as an Emerging Contaminant as an Emerging Contaminant

April 8, 2020

Local,  state,  and  federal  regulators  are  beginning  to  address  “emerging contaminants”—previously  unstudied chemicals  detected  in  drinking  water supplies  that potentially may  have  severe  environmental  and  human  health consequences. In North Carolina, detection of the emerging contaminant GenX, the  chemical  produced when making  nonstick  coatings  like  Teflon,  has  raised serious  questions.  Is  GenX  safe?  Should  it  be  regulated  and, if so, by whom? What  values  or  rules  should  guide  legislation  when  there  is  significant uncertainty over GenX’s short-and long-term effects? While this Comment does not  try  to  assess  GenX’s  safety,  it  considers  three  theoretical  frameworks  for regulating GenX: the precautionary principle, cost-benefit analysis, and equity-based regulation. The goal is to highlight the difficulty in determining the pathforward  with  potential  regulations while  balancingvalid  competing  concerns. Ultimately, this Comment argues that the best way to regulate GenX draws from each of the three theoretical frameworks.


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