by Vikki Crouse
If you’ve been to the movies lately, you may have heard of a film that’s been drawing the attention of environmental health advocates across the country. Dark Waters is based on the real story of a community in Parkersburg, West Virginia that was exposed to high levels of harmful pollutants that caused many residents to develop serious illnesses.
The pollutants at the center of the film are part of a family of chemicals that have recently been found at alarmingly high levels in North Carolina communities. These PFAS chemicals, also known as “forever” chemicals continue to pose a serious risk for children’s health.
North Carolina and the US Environmental Protection Agency have not yet set restrictions on these “forever” chemicals. Without action from our federal leaders, North Carolina’s families need action from state leaders to protect children from further exposure to PFAS chemicals in North Carolina.
What are PFAS?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of man-made organic chemicals. They are used in non-stick cookware like pots and pans, fabric stain-protective coatings, fast food wrappers, personal care products like dental floss and skin care, as well as in firefighting foams.
PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment. PFAS can persist for decades in water and air, and they build up in our bodies over time. There are hundreds of PFAS chemicals in circulation. None of them is restricted in any way by our federal or state governments.
PFAS can be harmful to people. They have been linked to increased risk of certain cancers, reduced birth weight, and reduced hormone levels. Exposure to these chemicals can affect growth, learning, and behavior in infants and young children. PFAS have also been shown to weaken the immune system during this critical period of development.
PFAS pollution in North Carolina
In North Carolina, residents of the lower Cape Fear region have found PFAS chemicals, including GenX, in their drinking water coming from industries upstream. It is estimated that the release of “forever chemicals” affected the drinking water of approximately 250,000 North Carolinians over several decades.
Without meaningful statewide regulation of the industries that discharge PFAS chemicals into drinking water, North Carolina families are left with few options to protect their children from further exposure.
What parents can do
Most children and adults are exposed to PFAS through consumer items. These include food packaging like take-out containers, non-stick cookware like pots and pans, fast food wrappers, personal care products like dental floss and skin care, among others. You can reduce your PFAS exposure by taking the following actions:
- If your drinking water contains PFAS above the EPA Lifetime Health Advisory (combined PFOA/PFOS concentration of 70 ppt), consider using an alternative or treated water source for any activity in which you might swallow water. These activities include drinking, food preparation, brushing teeth, or preparing infant formula.
- Check for fish advisories for water bodies where you fish.
- Read consumer product labels and avoid using those with PFAS.
- Boiling water will NOT remove PFAS chemicals from the water.
If you live in one of the areas where PFAS has been found at high levels in drinking water, the options to get rid of it are a bit limited. Some types of water filters can remove PFAS from drinking water. The real goal should be to remove PFAS from the source.
State and local leaders need to come together and take action immediately to get PFAS out of the drinking water serving hundreds of thousands of families in southeastern NC. To get involved, plug into the efforts being led by Clean Cape Fear.
Vikki Crouse is NC Child’s Environmental Health Policy Analyst