Residents near a North Carolina chemical factory will be tested for potential chemicals that were released into the air and water supply. GenX, a chemical that is used to make Teflon non-stick cookware, has been found in the lower Cape Fear River basin. The North Carolinians who volunteered for testing are among the first humans to ever donate samples to be studied for GenX.
We first shared news about the spilled chemicals near the Chemours Company (formerly DuPont) chemical factory in Cumberland County in May of this year. GenX was found in one private supply of local honey, and the industrial chemical produced at that facility had 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 were affected. Tests are already underway in Wilmington, but now the immediate neighbors of the Chemours Company Fayetteville Works complex are asked to participate in testing. North Carolina Health News reports that it is suspected that chemicals released from smokestacks at the three-plant complex were carried in the wind and washed into water wells. Thirty residents will have their blood and urine tested for industrial chemicals.
“Water from at least 225 wells have been found by the state Department of Environmental Quality and a Chemours contractor to be above the state’s provisional drinking water health goal of a total 140 parts per trillion for GenX and related compounds. Some wells were as far as 7 miles away.
According to state epidemiologist Zack Moore, the plan is to recruit up to two people per household — one adult and one child. Moore said the intricate analysis of up to 30 blood and urine samples will be done at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
He said the CDC is developing tests to detect the compounds, which research has found could be problematic in humans at levels of parts per trillion.”
Down the Cape Fear River, the Wilmington tests have already started. The residents who volunteered both blood and urine are participating in a new wave of discovery, since GenX has not been the focus of study in human samples. Previous studies focused on a chemical called PFOA (C8), which is in the same family as GenX. NCFH notes that C8 used to be produced at the Fayetteville Works complex before Chemours changed production to favor GenX.
Confusing? Yeah, kinda. The EPA breaks down the chemicals a bit, sharing that, “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals.” The chemicals have 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.
North Carolina State University, East Carolina University, and EPA scientists have been analyzing the blood and urine of 340 people (including children over the age of 6) living in the Wilmington area since the spring of this year.
The previous studies of PFOA (C8) mentioned above came from the Ohio Valley. In 2005, DuPont paid $10.5 million to the Environmental Protection Agency after accusations that the chemical company failed to report evidence of human health risks from C8 for residents in Ohio and West Virginia. The tests for the 30 people near the plant will be similar.
“Last year, DuPont also paid $670.7 million to settle a class-action lawsuit involving PFOA water contamination in the mid-Ohio Valley.
Scientists running the tests of people who live near Wilmington hope to notify study participants of results by September, said NC State environmental epidemiologist Jane Hoppin, the study leader. They also plan to hold public meetings to describe their findings, including one for Spanish speakers.
The plan to test 30 people living near the chemical plant DuPont ‘is a great start to getting some data for that community,’ Hoppin said.”
Neighbors to the chemical factory welcome the blood tests. But a separate announcement from Chemours was met with some concern. On the same day the blood tests were announced, the company shared that it was also going to provide filtration systems to affected households. Unfortunately, the filters have not proven to remove all chemicals from the water supply in a pilot study, and many believe that more testing is needed. If they can test human blood, surely they can take the time to test the filters. After all, only one of those two subjects will say “Ouch!” when pricked with a needle.