Researchers did not detect the chemical compound GenX in blood samples of more than 300 people, but did find other newly identified compounds, they revealed Tuesday.
Dr. Jane Hoppin, who is leading the research team at North Carolina State University, said the other compounds discovered are in the same class of compounds as GenX. Those are known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). However, it’s unclear what the health impacts are on people.
“It might just be an awakening to the fact that we live in a chemical environment, and we have chemicals in our body as well. So, I would not panic with this information,” Hoppin said.
Researchers discovered GenX in the Cape Fear River, saying the chemical company Chemours discharged it into the river at its plant near Fayetteville since the 1980s.
The river is the primary source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people living in and around Wilmington.
“I haven’t drank the water, eaten any local food since June of 2017,” said Ocean Priselac, who lives in Wilmington.
She agreed to be part of the study that Hoppin is leading, in which researchers took blood samples from 345 people, including 56 children, in New Hanover County.
Among the key findings, the researchers did not detect GenX in anyone’s blood. They did detect the following newly identified PFAS: Nafion byproduct 2, PFO4DA, PFOSDoDA and Hydro-EVE. The research team found those each of those compounds in the majority of people whose blood they tested.
They noted there’s no published health or toxicology data on those compounds.
“It’s a challenge, right? We always have to start with finding something new in order to understand what’s next,” Hoppin said.
She said the findings are unique to Wilmington, having compared the blood samples to other samples taken in the Triangle and in Dayton, Ohio.
The research team also noted the levels of historically used PFAS were higher in Wilmington than the United States as a whole. While they said exposure to those compounds could have health effects, it’s not clear on an individual basis what that means for people whose blood level tested higher for the presence of those compounds.
“What the hell are they gonna do about the water?” Priselac asked .
Though she has chosen not to drink the water, Hoppin said she would still drink the water in Wilmington.
Hoppin’s team plans to release test results from urine samples in the coming months.
Early next year, Hoppin said they’ll begin a similar study of about 250 people living near the Chemours facility, utilizing funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.