Read the full article by Lisa Sorg (NC Newsline)

“Children, women under age 44, and people who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not eat many species of fish caught in the Middle and Lower Cape Fear River, state health officials announced today. And no one, regardless of age or gender, should eat more than one to seven meals of these fish per year.

The fish consumption advisory applies to several types of catfish, bass, as well as bluegill, redder and American Shad. These species have been found to contain toxic PFOS, a type of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS for short. There are 12,000 types of PFAS, and exposure to even very low levels of them has been linked to multiple health problems, including thyroid and liver disorders, kidney and testicular cancers, immune system deficiencies, obesity, high cholesterol, and reproductive and fetal development problems.

The known affected portion of the Cape Fear starts at the Fayetteville boat ramp and continues southeast to the Bluffs, just north of Wilmington.

 Source: NC DHHS

The NC Department of Environmental Quality and NC Wildlife Resources Commission collected and tested fish from the species that are most frequently caught and consumed in North Carolina based on commission surveys. PFAS were found in all species tested, the NC Department of Health and Human Services said in a press release.

Levels of PFOS were higher in Bluegill, Flathead Catfish, Largemouth Bass, Striped Bass and Redear. Levels were lower in American Shad, Blue Catfish and Channel Catfish. The concentrations were similar to those measured in fish from other states, based on recent data from the EPA.

That EPA data from 2018 to 2019 — when scientists were still determining the compounds’ toxicity — showed PFOS was present in fish from the Lower Cape Fear levels ranging from 3,750 to 5,800 parts per trillion. For context, the EPA recently proposed drinking water standards of just 4 parts per trillion, although people consume much more water than they do fish.

The chemical industry phased out its use and manufacturing of PFOS in 2002. However, these compounds persist in the environment for decades, even hundreds of years, earning them the nickname ‘forever chemicals.’

The compounds are widespread in the environment, and found in many consumer products, such as microwave popcorn bags, Teflon cookware and water- and stain-resistant materials. In the Lower Cape Fear, Chemours is one main source of these compounds, including PFOS. The company’s Fayetteville Works Plant, on the Cumberland-Bladen county line, discharged PFOS, GenX and other types of PFAS into the Cape Fear River.

The advisory is especially pertinent for families who fish for sustenance, not just recreation. A Duke University study from 2016 to 2022 found that people who fished in the Lower Cape Fear preferred catfish and bass. Research also suggested that fishers are sharing their catch widely with family and friends, the study said.

Stephanie Schweickert, senior campaign organizer for the NC Conservation Network, issued a statement: ‘The troubling news about contaminated fish in the Cape Fear River is another warning that forever chemicals threaten our health and way of life in North Carolina. Communities across the state will continue to be impacted by forever chemicals in new and dangerous ways until industry leaders and political leaders do the right thing and take steps to cut this pollution off at the source.’

DHHS said it is working with local health departments and community-based organizations to help share information about PFAS in fish. This information is posted on the NCDHHS fish consumption advisories webpage.

Other states, like Michigan and Wisconsin  also have site-specific PFAS fish advisories. These advisories range from ‘do not eat’ to one meal per week. The new North Carolina advisories are lower than many other states, DHHS said, because they use new toxicity information released by the EPA in March.. North Carolina also has existing fish advisories related to mercury, arsenic, hexavalent chromium PCBs and other contaminants.

‘Communities in the Middle and Lower Cape Fear Region have been requesting information about PFAS in fish since GenX was found in the river,’ said Dr. Zack Moore, DHHS state epidemiologist. ‘There are no easy answers, but we hope this information will help residents make the best decisions for themselves and their families.'”