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Study: Some Gray’s Creek residents have higher-than-average amounts of PFAS in their system


Gray’s Creek residents who participated in a North Carolina State University chemical exposure study were told Wednesday they had a higher-than-average amount of chemicals in their system.

Researchers from N.C. State’s Center for Human Health and 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 the information provided to participants in a letter they received earlier 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 from residents is an element of the study. PFAS stands for per- and polyflouroalkyl substances. They are human-made chemicals used in a variety of commercial products and produced by the Chemours Fayetteville plant off N.C. 87 at the Cumberland and Bladen County line.

The GenX exposure study is measuring GenX and PFAS exposure in people living in the Cape Fear River Basin, 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 that were sent to blood donor participants contained a summary of the study and the findings, including their individual results. The study area is in the proximity of the Chemours Fayetteville Works plant.

To participate in the 2021 blood sampling, residents could be new or previous participants in the study, be at least 6 years old, limited to four people in one household, lived at their current address for at least a year, and if living in the Fayetteville area, must be on private wells.

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The blood PFAS results from 2020-21 found four PFAS types (PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS and PFNA) in almost everyone, according to the presentation. The amounts were higher levels than the U.S. national average. The 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 point of the presentation was to make residents aware that they are above the U.S. 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 for 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 sampling consisted of 1,020 people. Of those, 99.6% had PFOS; 99% had PFOA; 99%  had PFHxS; and 96% had PFNA in their blood.

The N.C. State research team is holding a series of meetings. The next presentation will be on Nov. 10 at the Cedar Creek Baptist Church. Another is scheduled for Dec. 7 at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington. Each of the two-hour meetings starts at 6 p.m.

The research team determined that residents living nearby or downstream from the Chemours Fayetteville Works plant were exposed to PFAS from the facility, but that the blood levels of these PFAS decline over time.

The health effects from PFAS include decreased antibody response in both children and adults, dyslipidemia in adults and children, decreased infant and fetal growth, and an increased risk of kidney cancer in adults.

More limited evidence of association to PFAS shows it may cause an increased risk of breast cancer in adults, increased risk of testicular cancer in adults, liver enzyme alterations 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 over the length of time the research team takes to come up with study results. Hoppin said the small research team is still analyzing historical data. She said among her questions is how some individuals living in like conditions have higher amounts of PFAS in their systems compared to others.

“We are just now at the cusp of learning the impact of PFAS,” Watters said.

Cumberland County, Gray's Creek, PFAS, Chemours