Gator in a toxic chemical soup: GenX levels dangerously high in wildlife

The indications of long-term exposure should be very concerning:

Belcher’s team compared alligators from Lake Waccamaw in Columbus County and Greenfield Lake in Wilmington with the latter showing levels of total PFAS more than 10 times higher. They also compared striped bass from the Pamlico Aquaculture Field Laboratory and Lock and Dam No. 1 on the Cape Fear River, with the latter showing levels more than 33 times higher.

Researchers are now, Belcher said, looking at whether the PFAS are affecting the immune systems or liver functions of the animals sampled -- endpoints that have also been identified in humans. Partners in the team’s research include Cape Fear River Watch, N.C. Sea Grant and the N.C. PFAST Network.

Studies like this are extremely important, because right now there haven't been enough to meet the "statistically relevant" watermark for Federal agencies like the CDC to come to any conclusions. No doubt industry has played a role in that dearth of information, something leaders in our state need to get through their thick skulls. Self-regulating doesn't work, no matter how much money it saves from your budgeting. Back to the gators and fish(es):

Samples taken from a pair of alligators sampled in Greenfield Lake showed 419 parts per billion (ppb) and 167 ppb of PFAS, compared to numbers in the mid teens in 14 gators sampled from Lake Waccamaw. Researchers targeted 6-foot alligators, figuring those creatures would be 15 to 20 years old and have largely been in the similar area.

Researchers plan to take additional samples at Greenfield Lake as soon as the average daily temperature reaches 60 degrees -- likely around the end of April. Belcher said they are aiming for 20 to 40 more samples there, as well as some additional samples at Lake Waccamaw and from alligators on Bald Head Island.

For striped bass, samples from 63 bass at Lock and Dam No. 1 averaged more than 500 ppb of PFAS, while the Pamilico bass were -- like the Waccamaw gators -- in the mid teens.

“We were actually very surprised at seeing levels this consistently high,” Belcher said.

In the Cape Fear, GenX was detected in about 53 percent of striped bass, while Nafion byproduct 2 was found in 78 percent. The chemicals were not detected in the Pamlico population.

“They were unique to the Cape Fear River,” Belcher said. Both GenX and Nafion byproduct 2 are linked with Chemours’ Fayetteville Works facility near the Bladen-Cumberland county line.

It has been speculated that long-chain carbon PFAS can bioaccumulate in fish (not unlike Methyl Mercury), and these results would seem to bear that out. The alligators may be 15-20 years old, but some of those striped bass could be closer to 30. Researchers won't say it but I will: That bioaccumulation could be occurring in people, too. Not so much from eating the fish, because they are somewhat protected, but by drinking water that has not been completely cleansed of GenX.

Whatever the case, this needs more research. Stat.