The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) has released new guidance about consuming certain types of fish from parts of the lower Cape Fear River. 

The new recommendations are the latest in the fallout from the discovery of contaminants known as PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in the Cape Fear River. PFAS also known as “forever chemicals,” are an emerging public health concern predominantly in the water and air. In March former North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) Secretary Michael Regan who now leads the EPA, announced national standards for PFAS levels.

NCDEQ and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission conducted a fish collection and testing operation spanning from Cumberland County to the New Hanover County line along the river. During this study, PFAS were detected in all the fish that were caught and tested. Notably, certain species exhibited significantly higher levels of contamination.

Courtesy NCDHHS

Bluegill, Flathead Catfish, Largemouth Bass, Striped Bass, and Redear all had higher levels with American Shad, Blue Catfish, and Channel Catfish producing lower levels. NCDHHS notes that exposure to PFAS from fish may be higher among communities that catch and eat fish frequently.

“Studies have documented the many benefits of eating fish,” said Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, State Health Director and NCDHHS Chief Medical Officer. “We want residents to have these recommendations so they can make informed decisions about fish consumption, particularly if they regularly catch and eat fish from this part of the Cape Fear River.” 

Courtesy NCDHHS
Courtesy NCDHHS

Advisory limits are lower for women of childbearing age, pregnant women, nursing mothers and children.

“Communities in the middle and lower Cape Fear Region have been requesting information about PFAS in fish since GenX was found in the river,” said Dr. Zack Moore, NCDHHS State Epidemiologist. 

Anyone with concerns about possible health effects of PFAS exposures can use the NCDHHS Clinician Memo