Residents of Gray’s Creek who participated in a North Carolina State University chemical exposure study were told on Wednesday, November 2, that they had higher than average amounts of chemicals in their system.
Researchers from the NC State Center for Human Health and the Environment met with approximately 30 area residents at the Gray’s Creek Community Center on School Road. Researchers Nadine Kotlarz, Jane Hoppin, and Detlef Knappe reviewed information provided to participants in an earlier letter they received and answered questions about the results.
Participants in the GenX Exposure Study are part of a long-term health study to understand the health effects of PFAS. Blood sampling of residents is one element of the study. PFAS stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They are man-made chemicals that are used in a variety of commercial products and are produced by the Chemours Fayetteville plant off NC 87 on the line between Cumberland and Bladen counties.
The GenX Exposure Study is measuring GenX and PFAS exposure in people living in the Cape Fear River watershed, the source of drinking water for many communities. The study began in November 2017 after Wilmington discovered GenX and PFAS contamination in its drinking water.
The letters sent to participating blood donors contained a summary of the study and the findings, including their individual results. The study area is near the Chemours Fayetteville Works plant.
To participate in the 2021 blood draw, residents must be new or former study participants, be at least 6 years old, be limited to four people in a household, live at their current address for at least one year, and , if you live in the Fayetteville Area, it must be in private wells.
The 2020-21 blood PFAS results found four types of PFAS (PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS and PFNA) in almost everyone, according to the filing. The amounts were higher than the US national average. Sampling also found “Nafion byproduct 2” and PFOSDoA in some people in the Fayetteville area. The study did not find GenX in any blood samples, according to the presentation.
Hoppin said the goal of the presentation was to make residents aware that they are above the US average for PFAS in their system and to get them to understand the health effects of those findings.
Community activist Mike Watters, who is a community advisor to the research team, was more poignant.
“Our blood is contaminated and they (residents) need to share that information with their doctors and come up with a plan,” he said.
The sample consisted of 1,020 people. Of these, 99.6% had PFOS; 99% had PFOA; 99% had PFHxS; and 96% had PFNA in their blood.
The NC State research team is holding a series of meetings. The next presentation will be on November 10 at Cedar Creek Baptist Church. Another is scheduled for December 7 at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington. Each of the two-hour meetings begins at 6 p.m.
The research team determined that residents living near or downstream from the Chemours Fayetteville Works plant were exposed to PFAS from the facility, but that blood levels of these PFAS decline over time.
The health effects of PFAS include decreased antibody response in both children and adults, dyslipidemia in adults and children, decreased infant and fetal growth, and increased risk of kidney cancer in adults.
More limited evidence of association with PFAS shows that it may cause an increased risk of breast cancer in adults, increased risk of testicular cancer in adults, liver enzyme abnormalities in adults and children, increased risk of pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia, thyroid disease and dysfunction, and an increased risk of ulcerative colitis in adults.
Some residents expressed frustration with the length of time it takes for the research team to get the results of the study. Hoppin said the small research team is still looking at historical data. She said that among her questions is how some people living in similar conditions have higher amounts of PFAS in their systems compared to others.
“We are right now on the cusp of knowing the impact of PFAS,” Watters said.