Read the full article by Greg Barnes (North Carolina Health News)

“John Wolfe doesn’t know what else he can do to protect himself against the coronavirus.

The Wilmington boat captain follows all of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. He wears a mask and requires tourists on his boat to do the same. He practices social distancing and washes his hands frequently.

But Wolfe, like thousands of others who live downstream of the Chemours chemical plant on the Cape Fear River, worries that he may be more susceptible to the coronavirus.

He has reason to be concerned.

Late last month, the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released a report saying studies suggest that exposure to high levels of fluorinated compounds — commonly referred to as PFAS or ‘forever chemicals’ — could suppress the immune system and increase the risk of getting COVID-19 and the severity of infection.

Studies have also shown that exposure to PFAS could reduce the effectiveness of childhood vaccines and adult flu vaccines.

The agency’s report was followed by an opinion piece from some of the nation’s leading PFAS researchers, including Jamie DeWitt of East Carolina University. The article was published July 6 in Environmental Health News.

‘Most concerning during this global pandemic … is that exposure to PFAS suppresses the ability of the immune system to make antibodies — the part of the immune system critically important in fighting COVID-19 and other infectious agents,” the article states. “Our studies have found that laboratory animals exposed to PFAS have decreased antibodies, verifying what we have seen in PFAS-exposed people and making us confident that PFAS are toxic to the immune system.”

Wolfe’s PFAS levels are high

PFAS, a class of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been in use since the 1940s to make products non-stick, waterproof or stain-resistant. They’re used in rain jackets, carpets, upholstery, cookware, fast-food packaging, dental floss and much more.

DuPont — and Chemours since 2015 — produced PFAS either as a product or a byproduct at a chemical plant near the banks of the Cape Fear River in Bladen County. The Wilmington Star-News disclosed in June 2017 that high levels of GenX and other PFAS had been found in the drinking water for New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties.

Wolfe knows that his blood contains high levels of a few of the estimated 5,000 PFAS that exist. He has the results of blood tests conducted by N.C. State University and released to the public in November 2018 to prove it.

Researchers at N.C. State took tap water samples and drew blood from Wolfe and 344 other people living in the Lower Cape Fear River Basin. They found that the levels of certain types of PFAS were much higher in Wilmington than in the United States as a whole. Wolfe’s test results came back higher than the median for all of the study’s participants.

Wolfe isn’t surprised

On Tuesday, Wolfe said he had just read the opinion piece linking PFAS to the coronavirus.

‘My first thought when I read that article was like, ‘Of course, of course it does. Why wouldn’t it? It already does everything else that’s terrible for you. Let’s just throw this on the pile,’ he said.

According to the CDC, a large number of studies suggest that PFAS could cause an increased risk of testicular or kidney cancer, increased cholesterol levels, decreased vaccine response in children, changes in liver enzymes, increased risk of high blood pressure or preeclampsia in pregnant women and small decreases in infant birth weights.

Wolfe’s blood test found elevated levels of a particularly concerning type of PFAS called Nafion by-product 2, which has been used in the manufacturing process by both Chemours and DuPont. It has been found in tap water downstream of the chemical plant and in private wells surrounding it.

Wolfe said his blood tests revealed that he has a concentration of Nafion by-product 2 of 5.5 parts per trillion, double the median of everyone who participated in the testing…”