PFAS chemicals found in ENC river directly linked to cancer

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – The Environmental Protection Agency says chemicals such as PFAS, which can be found in the Cape Fear River and the New River in New Hanover and Onslow counties, have been linked to various forms of cancer.

WITN joined groups Thursday as they went out to collect water samples in Onslow County in an effort to find a solution to the problem.

Waterways along the coast are essential for marine wildlife and for the communities around them.

However, environmentalists worry that the New River could do more harm than good if left untreated.

“We’re working with a network of water keepers,” Lisa Rider of Coastal Carolina Riverwatch said. “There will be 130 sample locations being done across the nation. The New River is one of those.”

Members of Coastal Carolina Riverwatch and the Sturgeon City Environmental Education Center are collecting water samples for PFAS, a series of chemicals found in a number of commercial and industrial products that the National Cancer Institute says are directly connected to kidney and testicular cancer.

“I moved to Wilmington kind of on a spur-of-the-moment decision and went to UNCW without ever hearing about PFAS or Gen X or any of that sort of contaminant,” Raley Lewis of Coastal Carolina Riverwatch said.

Lewis has a personal attachment to the research, receiving a crash course about the issues in water quality in the Wilmington waterways.

“My peers told me pretty much right away, ‘hey, don’t drink the tap water,’ and so right from pretty much day one, I learned about these chemicals and the severity of them.”

Experts explained that the sample kits from the river testing filter the surface water for the concentration.

The hope is that none will be found, as the fight continues against an enemy we can’t see.

“We’re looking at the concentrations if they’re higher, but also the potential for an avenue of removal of PFAS because if we can create foam using some type of infrastructure, that may be a method to remove PFAS from the water,” Rider said.

Environmentalists also discourage the use of non-stick frying pans and encourage businesses and restaurants to use more biofriendly wrapping papers, as these are some of the more common products containing the chemicals.

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