Is chemical pollution affecting N.C. farms? A recent report from North Carolina Health News shares that the chemical commonly known as GenX may affect livestock and plant life. Tests are needed to determine the chemical in the soil, as GenX has already been found in water sources in a few North Carolina counties.
Tests may be needed for food sources close to the Chemours Co. (formerly DuPont) chemical factory in Cumberland County. Solid data and testing are needed to confirm industrial pollution, but speculation from locals as well as incidents of recent water contamination raise concerns about the chemical GenX, part of per- or polyfluroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals, in N.C. food production.
The EPA shares that “Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals.” It has been in use since the 1940s. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry notes that PFAS chemicals have been used in industrial and consumer products such as non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics, firefighting foams, and products that resist grease, water, and oil.
Contaminated soil and water, food packaging and food packaging equipment can expose people to low levels of PFAS. The chemicals are so tough that they don’t break down in nature. They can accumulate in the tissues of people and other living things, including edible plants, and some bring known or suspected health risks.
The area around the Chemours chemical factory property south of Fayetteville, N.C., would be the main area for future testing. GenX has been found in one private supply of local honey, and the industrial chemical produced at that facility has been released into water supplies. In February, it was reported that GenX and other chemicals seeped into the lower Cape Fear River basin. Both well water and public and private drinking water have been affected.
North Carolina Health News notes that chemicals have been found miles away from the Fayetteville site: “PFAS chemicals originating from the Chemours site, on the border of Bladen and Cumberland counties, have been found in residential drinking wells three miles away, in rainwater collected at seven miles distance, and many tens of miles away in drinking water drawn from the Cape Fear in and near Wilmington.” They also note that GenX was found in nearby Robeson County’s water system. The compounds are soluble in water, and are capable of traveling down rivers, through soils and with rain storms.
While there is no publicly known evidence of tainted foods being raised near Chemours, state officials are in the assessment stage when it comes to testing the surrounding land. North Carolina Health News shares that health officials are already testing fish caught in contaminated waters near Chemours, and that future agricultural testing may be split between the state environmental and agriculture departments. The EPA is expected to come up with toxicity assessments for two forms of GenX chemicals and a reference dose – the amount of chemical someone can ingest over a lifetime without harm – which will help in future assessments.
Testing the area will be complex. North Carolina Health News notes that meaningful tests of food take time, and methods are needed to detect PFAS compounds in a variety of farming, from blueberries to swine.
In The Netherlands, Dutch scientists found GenX and other chemicals in vegetables, grass and leaves near a Chemours plant. Though the test results from another country cannot be applied to N.C., the results signal a need for similar measures to be taken here.
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