Read the full article by Will Atwater (North Carolina Health News)

“A thousand residents living in the Cape Fear region have PFAS in their bloodstream, according to the long-awaited results of a blood-sampling study performed by local researchers. 

On Oct. 18, researchers from NC State University announced the results of a multi-year study that involved analyzing blood samples of 1,020 participants across three communities in the Cape Fear Region for GenX. Roughly, half of the participants in the GenX Exposure Study live in the lower Cape Fear region (New Hanover and Brunswick Counties), while the other participants reside in the upper Cape Fear Basin (Fayetteville and Pittsboro), according to the report which was published online and presented via webinar

One important distinction among study participants is that Fayetteville participants receive their drinking water from wells, while the other participants rely on municipal water for their water supply. 

These results come even as North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has seven pending lawsuits against per – and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) manufacturers. Six of the lawsuits target aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) manufacturers and one targets the Chemours Fayetteville Works Industrial site which was the source of contamination in the lower Cape Fear. 

The new study findings bolster Stein’s argument that PFAS manufacturers are harming North Carolina citizens. And with action by the EPA Administrator Michael Regan, whose agency established the Strategic Roadmap, an approach to address PFAS contamination, it feels like people who are pushing back against PFAS contamination might be going on the offensive against industry instead of always playing catch-up, as they have for years.

The origin of ‘forever chemicals’

In the last several weeks, PFAS headlines have been a constant fixture in state and national news. 

Since 2017, when GenX, a class of PFAS, were discovered in the Cape Fear River Basin downstream of Chemours Fayetteville Works site, the toxic compounds have been one of the most discussed environmental issues in North Carolina and beyond. 

Starting in the 1940s, PFAS — also referred to as ‘forever chemicals,’ due to their persistence in the environment and the human body — have been used in the manufacturing of oil and water-resistant products, as well as products that resist heat and reduce friction.There are more than 12,000 different PFAS compounds used in products such as non-stick cookware, cosmetics, cleaning products, water-resistant clothing and textiles, and firefighting foam, along with firefighting turnout gear.

What’s more, researchers have found evidence that suggests a link between PFAS exposure and weaker antibody responses against infections in adults and children, elevated cholesterol levels, decreased infant and fetal growth, and kidney cancer in adults.

Some key findings from the study are that while there were GenX compounds found in previous water samples in these communities, there were no GenX compounds present in the blood samples, said Jane Hoppin, NCSU epidemiologist and lead study researcher. GenX is the PFAS that was manufactured most widely at Fayetteville Works in recent years and that has been found in the Cape Fear River.

‘The fact that we can’t measure Gen X in people’s bodies today means that we can’t measure it in you today,’ Hoppin told NC Health News in 2021. ‘It doesn’t mean that you haven’t been exposed in the past.’

What Hoppin and her team have been able to determine from all their testing is that GenX doesn’t stick around in human bodies for as long as older chemicals in the same class. But she said that doesn’t mean GenX’s passage through those bodies is benign. Like alcohol, which is ingested and then passes through the body quickly, Hoppin said GenX exposure could lead to health problems over time.

Additionally, PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS and PFNA, also referred to as legacy compounds, ‘which are found in most people in the U.S.,’ according to Hoppin, were present across all samples at a rate higher than the national average.

The report also said the sources of PFAS in the Cape Fear River Basin were from textile and furniture manufacturing, sludge from wastewater treatment plants used as fertilizer, the use of firefighting foam at airports and the Fayetteville Works facility.” …