Superfund Research Program
PFAS Exposure and Thyroid-Related Health Outcomes in Communities Along the Cape Fear River, North Carolina
Project Leader: Jane A. Hoppin
Co-Investigators: Kemp Burdette (Cape Fear River Watch), David Collier (East Carolina University), Cary Suzanne Lea (East Carolina University), Katy May, David B. Richardson (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill), Emily Sutton (Haw River Assembly), Jonelle Kimbrough (Sustainable Sandhills)
Grant Number: P42ES031009
Funding Period: 2020-2025
Project Summary (2020-2025)
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are common drinking water contaminants in North Carolina and around the United States. Little is known about how long these chemicals stay in the body or what the human health impacts are. These chemicals have been detected in the drinking water of communities living along the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. Working with two community groups, the researchers are evaluating PFAS exposure and thyroid health effects in people whose drinking water has been contaminated with PFAS. Disruption of thyroid hormones, as well as metabolic outcomes such as obesity, have been associated with PFAS in other populations. The two communities have experienced exposure to different types of PFAS in their drinking water. The Fayetteville private well community is located near a fluorochemical plant that discharged PFAS to both air and water (Cape Fear River) since 1980; their wells are believed to be contaminated as a result of air transport. Wilmington, at the mouth of the Cape Fear River and downstream of the chemical plant, has been exposed to both historically used PFAS (e.g., PFOA, PFOS), as well as a number of newly identified PFAS (e.g., GenX, Nafion byproduct 2). To study these diverse communities, the researchers are recruiting 800 individuals across the two communities to evaluate whether PFAS, either individually or as a group, influence thyroid outcomes. They are including individuals ages six and over who have lived in the region since July 2016. They are inviting participants to clinic visits in Years 1 and 3 to collect blood samples for PFAS and clinical analyses and to administer questionnaires to obtain information on water use history, demographic characteristics, and medical and health outcomes. Working with their community partners, they plan to report back individual- and community-level results on a regular basis. They have Community Science Advisory Boards in each community to provide input to the study and ensure that the study investigators are well-informed about community concerns. The researchers anticipate finding PFAS mixtures in each community and are planning to use statistical approaches that allow them to evaluate individual PFAS while taking into account the complex mixture present. This study, with its complex mix of PFAS and racially diverse samples, is providing key insights to the human health implications of PFAS both in North Carolina and around the world.