Brody researcher sheds light on potential harmful chemicals in drinking water

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – A Brody School of Medicine researcher teamed up with three other scholars from around the world to shed light on potential dangerous compounds in everyday water.

Dr. Jame DeWitt studies toxins in Greenville. Her most recent commentary involved highly-fluorinated chemicals, often referred to as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs).

DeWitt said PFASs are commonly used to make items water-repellant, stain-resistant and nonstick. Humans already have some levels of PFASs, but the commentary showed much higher than normal levels in water in North Carolina.

water-mapIn fact, only California and New Jersey had higher levels of PFASs in water than North Carolina. On the map, the areas in blue show where water tested positive. As you can see, almost the entire eastern part of the state is covered.

“Companies who make these compounds or use these compounds for making other products are discharging, allowably discharging, into waterways and sometimes they have spills and leaks into waterways,” DeWitt said.

DeWitt points to the heavy industry and military activities for reasons why PFAS levels might be higher in eastern North Carolina.

Currently the EPA has very loose regulations, if any at all, on PFASs because more research needs to be completed. But DeWitt said the compounds have been linked to serious health implications.

“Kidney and testicular cancers are two of the cancers in which we have pretty solid evidence in both human populations and in animal populations,” she said.

All of this is particularly concerning for riverkeepers in the state like Heather Decker, who oversees water quality in the Pamlico and Tar Rivers.

“Once they’re in the water, in the environment, they’re there for thousands of years,” Decker said.

Because PFSAs are such strong compounds, they don’t break down easily over the years.

Research on fish in North Carolina waters shows higher than normal levels of PFASs, raising the question what is a safe level for humans to consume.

“There may already be health implications that we have now that we haven’t been able to necessarily tie to environmental contaminants,” she said.

DeWitt said she hopes her commentary begins a real discussion about PFASs, and opens the line for communications to better understand how they may impact human health.

To read more about the study, click here.

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