Alligator Study Finds 'Harbingers of Dangers to Human Health'

High levels of 'forever chemicals' found in Cape Fear River gators
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 23, 2022 11:10 AM CDT
Alligator Study Finds 'Harbingers of Dangers to Human Health'
The Chemours Company's PPA facility at the Fayetteville Works plant near Fayetteville, N.C. where the chemical known as GenX, a PFAS, is produced is shown June 15, 2018.   (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

Alligators in the Cape Fear River have "extremely high levels of PFAS compounds and markers of immune disease in their blood," according to a new study by researchers in North Carolina, per the Guardian. The so-called “forever chemicals” appear to have had noticeable health impacts on the reptiles, which are suffering from an autoimmune disorder similar to lupus and experiencing high numbers of unhealed skin lesions, which aren't a typical problem for alligators. "This really highlights the damage that we’re seeing across the ecosystem from PFAS and shows we’re just starting to scratch the surface of their impacts," said lead researcher Scott Belcher of NC State. He says the alligators’ health problems are likely "harbingers of dangers to human health."

It’s the latest step toward understanding the effects of PFAS, which is short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, aka “forever chemicals” because they do not decompose easily in nature. For decades, the chemicals have been used to make common industrial and consumer products, including water-resistant clothes, stain-resistant carpets, and firefighting foam. PFAS have been of particular concern for communities in the Cape Fear River Basin since 2016, when researchers discovered the area’s drinking water was heavily polluted by PFAS from the Chemours plant in Fayetteville, per National Geographic, which previously reported on the impact of PFAS on striped bass populations.

Since then, Chemours says it has “taken numerous steps to dramatically reduce water discharges and air emissions,” also per the Guardian, but the plant has been dumping chemicals into the river since the 1950s. Furthermore, according to the New York Times, Chemours has been unable to meet state requirements for reducing emissions of highly toxic GenX chemicals, despite installing advanced filtration systems, a thermal oxidizer, an underground wall, and other measures. Meanwhile, last month, the company announced a planned expansion of its Fayetteville facility, triggering “outrage” among local environmental and health advocacy groups, per WRAL. Many of those same groups are already suing the EPA to require Chemours to pay for more studies on the effects of PFAS, about which much remains unknown, according to the EPA. (More forever chemicals stories.)

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