ECU Professor speaks to Congress on affects of PFAS

WASHINGTON, DC (WITN) - ECU Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology at ECU's Brody School of Medicine, Dr. Jamie DeWitt, spoke before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce explaining health threats from poly-fluoroalkyl, PFAS exposure.

PFAS are human-made chemicals that have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries since the 1940s. These chemicals can be found in household products, industrial facilities, drinking water, and food grown near PFAS-contaminated soil.

In North Carolina, Gen-X is a PFAS-associated chemical; which was found over the last few years in the cape fear river after being discharged there by the Chemours plant in Cumberland County.

Several lawsuits have been brought against the company for negligence because the river is a source of drinking water for many.

During the hearing, Dr. DeWitt says PFAS can potentially cause the following:

•​Decreased anti-body response vaccines
•​Liver damage
•​Increased risk of thyroid disease
•​Increased risk of asthma
•​Increased risk of decreased fertility
•​Decreases in birth weight
•​Increases and pregnancy
•​Induced preeclampsia
•​Hypertension

Another witness included a mother named Emily Marpe. She lives near a plant in New York and spoke to the committee about her experience when she and her children were told to quote "stop brushing their teeth immediately."

Marpe said, "You say there's not enough studies? I've been diagnosed with thyroid disease. My daughter, Gwynn, now has a pediatric endocrinologist. We've suffered the health affects."

Lawmakers seemed receptive of the new ideas, however, they wanted to make sure they understood the scientific approach. The committee was allotted time to question the urgency to take action to hold polluters accountable.

Republican lawmaker John Shimkus spoke about treading lightly against taking hasty action—while the EPA continues its research on PFAS.

"This is not a delay tactic. This is a plea to prevent major expensive mandates on states as well as unintended consequences on EPA's ongoing work both on PFAS and many other substances would have to take a back seat to the mandates in these bills."

The witnesses stood firm in encouraging lawmakers to respond to the bills presented immediately, because the chemicals are toxic and dangerous to human health. Several offered solutions such as expediting clean-up, reducing exposure, and regulatory action that could take years.

DeWitt says 98 percent of Americans have one or more PFAS in their blood, according to the CDC, and 19 million people have affected water.