North Carolina health authorities have recommended limits on the consumption of certain freshwater fish from the middle and lower Cape Fear River due to concerns over contamination from “forever chemicals.”
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday that the recommendation was based on concerns about exposure to perfluorooctane sulfonic acid found in the fish sampled from that area.
PFOS is part of the chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS. They are chemicals that do not break down in the environment.
The department said these conclusions were based on newly available data and information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and that fish advisories are issued to help Americans weigh the value of eating fish with the risks of pollutants that fish absorb from their environment.
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The chemicals are an emerging health concern, with multiple potential sources of exposure.
Notably, exposure to PFAS from fish may be higher among communities that catch and eat fish frequently.
Studies have linked PFAS to multiple health impacts, including negative effects on growth, learning and behavior in children, reduced chances of getting pregnant, impaired thyroid function, increased cholesterol levels, decreased immune system response and increased risk of certain types of cancer like testicular and kidney cancer.
“Studies have documented the many benefits of eating fish,” Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, state health director and the department’s chief medical officer said in a statement. “We want residents to have these recommendations so they can make informed decisions about fish consumption, particularly if they regularly catch and eat fish from this part of the Cape Fear River.”
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The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and the state’s Wildlife Resources Commissions tested fish from the species most frequently caught and consumed there, based on surveys by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
The PFAS were found in all species that were tested, although levels were higher in Bluegill, Flathead Catfish, Largemouth Bass, Striped Bass and Redear.
Levels were lower in American Shad, Blue Catfish and Channel Catfish.
This advisory recommends that women of childbearing age and children avoid eating avoid bluegill, flathead catfish, largemouth bass, redear and striped bass caught from the portions of the river and that other adults limit consumption to just one meal annually from those species combined.
For American shad, blue catfish or channel catfish, the consumption recommendation is one meal annually for women of childbearing age and children and seven meals for other adults.
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PFOS concentrations in the fish were similar to those measured in other states based on EPA data.
North Carolina also has existing fish advisories related to mercury and other contaminants.
“Communities in the middle and lower Cape Fear Region have been requesting information about PFAS in fish since GenX was found in the river,” Dr. Zack Moore, state epidemiologist, said. “There are no easy answers, but we hope this information will help residents make the best decisions for themselves and their families.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.