Read the full article by Nicole Greenfield (NRDC)
“When the Wilmington, North Carolina, StarNews broke a story in 2017 about the rampant contamination of the region’s drinking water supply by a chemical called GenX, Tom Kennedy had just finished four months of chemotherapy for his stage 2 breast cancer. During the radiation treatment that followed, Kennedy, then 45, learned that the cancer had metastasized to his brain, newly classifying him as a stage 4 terminal patient with 6 to 12 months to live. Four years later, with some 60 rounds of chemotherapy under his belt, he’s still going strong.
But also four years later, the Cape Fear River watershed—which supplies drinking water for Kennedy’s family and around 350,000 other North Carolinians—remains contaminated with the perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that DuPont, and its spin-off, Chemours, dumped into the river for more than four decades.
‘I don’t know if it can ever be proven,’ Kennedy says, ‘but I’m pretty certain that the PFAS contamination is what led to my cancer.’
PFAS are used, often superfluously, in everyday products like nonstick cookware, carpets, food packaging, stain repellents, and water-resistant clothing. The synthetic compounds are also commonly found in firefighting foam and gear, which has led to the contamination of most military bases and airports. GenX, which DuPont began producing in 2009, is merely one of the many thousands of these ‘forever chemicals’ that don’t break down in the environment and, instead, can bioaccumulate in the bodies of humans and wildlife. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PFAS can be detected in the blood of nearly every American.
Breathing contaminated air and eating contaminated food can also expose people to these chemicals. La’Meshia Whittington of the NC Black Alliance and Advance Carolina notes that low-income people of color face greater risks of exposure, since they’re not only more likely to live near polluting facilities but also more likely to eat fast food meals that come in PFAS packaging, live in rental units with PFAS-laden carpeting, or drink from contaminated water supplies. At the same time, these populations are less likely to be able to afford bottled water or the expensive filtration systems that effectively remove PFAS contamination from their water. Whittington says, ‘It’s the historical legacy and atrocity of cumulative impact that we’ve had to deal with…’”