RALEIGH, NC (WECT) - Studies by the NC Department of Health and Human Services showed higher rates of certain cancers in New Hanover County, but DHHS was quick to point out that people should not assume there is a link between those rates and GenX in our drinking water.
"We remind the public that the data in the registry do not identify the causes of cancer," the DHHS said in a release on Thursday. "Therefore, no conclusions can be drawn as to whether GenX or any other specific exposures contributed to cancer rates we examined."
GenX is a chemical used in the production of Teflon and the Chemours Company in Fayetteville discharged it into the Cape Fear River beginning in 1980.
Chemours said in a news release on June 20 that it would stop putting GenX into the Cape Fear and the NC Department of Environmental Quality said Tuesday that it verified the company is containing GenX wastewater in storage tanks to be moved off-site for disposal.
Phillip Tarte, the New Hanover County health director, said the DHHS release is not a cause for concern, but he noted that there are still more unknowns than knowns about GenX.
"Truly, at this point, you have information that shows no significant increases or decreases (in the cancer rates) of causal effects from GenX or any other contaminant in the river," Tarte said. "Information is forthcoming, and I know they will continue to study it."
DHHS looked at the incidence of five specific cancers in Bladen, Brunswick, New Hanover, and Pender counties and compared them with statewide cancer rates from 1996 to 2015.
The rates of pancreatic, liver, uterine, testicular and kidney cancers were chosen for analysis because they have been associated with GenX or other perfluorinated compounds in laboratory animal studies.
The incidence rates were compared to the state rates for the entire 20-year period and separately for each five-year interval therein (1996–2000, 2001–2005, 2006–2010 and 2011–2015).
County rates for these cancers were similar to state rates, with the following exceptions:
- New Hanover County had a higher 20-year rate of testicular cancer during 1996–2015 and a higher five-year rate of liver cancers during 2006–2010 compared with the state. NOTE: Rates of both cancers in New Hanover County were similar to the state rates during the most recent period (2011-2015).
- Brunswick County had a lower 20-year rate of pancreatic cancer during 1996–2015; a lower five-year rate of uterine cancer during 2006–2010; and a lower five-year rate of pancreatic cancer during 2011–2015 compared with the state.
- Bladen County had a lower 20-year rate of kidney cancer during 1996–2015 compared with the state.
"This initial information from DHHS shows that we are not seeing any noticeable or statistically significant trends within the cancer registry for our region compared with the state," New Hanover County Health Director Phillip Tarte said in a release. "There is still more information to be gained through the state and federal investigations as it relates to GenX, but this is valuable data as we work to understand the public health effects."
The DHHS Deputy Secretary for Health Services, Mark Benton, added that the findings were in line with what the department expected.
"Overall the results are what we would expect to see looking at multiple types of cancer in multiple counties, with some rates below and above the state rate," Benton said. "Many factors could influence these cancer incidence rates, including prevalence of tobacco and alcohol use, diet and lifestyle choices, and many other possible exposures – none of which are addressed in the cancer registry."
View the full DHHS release here.