High levels of toxic chemicals in pets living near US manufacturing plants | PFAS

Pets living near a PFAS manufacturing plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina have concerning levels of the toxic chemicals in their blood, and show evidence of health effects linked to exposure, new research finds.

PFAS were present in all 32 dog and 31 horse blood samples checked, and the findings provide evidence that human and animal exposure to the chemicals impacts their bodies, said Scott Belcher, a North Carolina State University researcher and co-author.

“It is just consistent with what we’ve seen over and over again, and it makes the case clear that these are toxic compounds,” he said.

PFAS is a class of about 15,000 compounds typically used to make products across dozens of industries resistant to water, stains and heat. They are called “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down, and are linked to cancer, kidney disease, liver conditions, immune disorders, birth defects and other serious health problems.

PFAS pollution from a Chemours plant in North Carolina has widely contaminated the soil, water and air for hundreds of square miles around the company’s Fayetteville Works plant, and residents say their exposure to the chemicals is behind elevated cancer levels and other serious health problems.

Last year, a team led by Belcher found alligators in the region exposed to high levels of PFAS in the Cape Fear River exhibited signs of disease similar to lupus.

Residents have also said they suspect their pets have gotten sick from exposure to the chemicals. Among them was Adrian Stokes, who last year told the Guardian he had watched helplessly as he, his cats and his dogs seemed to suffer from similar ailments.

One cat repeatedly fell face-first into her food, he said, and another wobbled while he walked, which a vet attributed to unexplained kidney and neurological disorders. Two of his dogs had to drag themselves after losing use of their back legs, and Stokes put them to sleep.

A few miles away, Fayetteville resident Mike Watters’ three huskies died of pancreatic cancer, while area livestock owners have said they cannot find any other explanation as to why their horses had developed similar respiratory issues, and cattle were born deformed.

The study was partly organized by concerned local residents and funded through the state. It zeroed in on dogs and horses who lived on properties with well water contaminated with high enough levels of PFAS that Chemours had to provide bottled water.

The analyzes of the pets’ blood revealed biomarkers that suggest “adverse kidney and liver impacts”, Belcher said, although he underscored that it did not necessarily mean the animals were suffering from disease, and it’s virtually impossible to prove causation. However, he noted the PFAS class has for decades been strongly linked to liver and kidney diseases.

“The associations are all coming up the same,” Belcher said.

The study also showed differences in the type of PFAS compounds found in the blood of each animal, depending on whether they primarily lived indoors or outdoors, and whether they drank bottled or well water.

Pets that lived outdoors, like horses, and those that drank well in water showed higher levels of PFAS compounds produced at the nearby Chemours plant, like HFPO-DA, also called GenX. Pets that lived indoors and mostly drank bottled water had higher levels of PFOS, which is among the most toxic PFAS compounds. The PFOS is likely to come from exposure to indoor sources of contamination, such as paint, stain guards or other products with PFAS.

The findings also highlight how those who can afford bottled water can better protect themselves, Belcher said. In some cases pet owners were drinking highly contaminated well water and giving their pets the bottled water that Chemours was ordered to provide.

“Pets mean so much to people,” Belcher said. “The emotional impact that this contamination is having on the community is so much more massive than what I have appreciated.”

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