DHHS Releases Analysis of Selected Birth Defects in Five Southeastern North Carolina Counties


The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services today released an analysis of four categories of birth defects in Bladen, Brunswick, Cumberland, New Hanover and Pender counties from 2003-2014 using data from the North Carolina Birth Defects Monitoring Program. The analysis was done to address concerns raised during the state’s ongoing investigation into GenX and other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also referred to as PFAS. 
The review showed some central nervous system and cardiac defects were higher in one or more of the five counties examined compared with the state average, keeping in mind that these estimates vary widely from year to year because of the small number of these defects. Within the five counties, compared to the state, different types of brain defects were elevated in different counties: brain reduction defect prevalence was higher in Bladen, Brunswick and Cumberland counties, while microcephaly and hydrocephaly were more prevalent in New Hanover County.
For reasons that are not well understood, the prevalence of brain anomalies varied substantially across North Carolina and higher prevalence was not limited to the lower Cape Fear region. 
There are no national data available for comparison.
Brain and spinal cord defects, facial clefts, heart defects and skeletal defects were chosen for this analysis because they have been included in previous studies of PFAS exposure or because associations with PFAS have been suggested in studies of laboratory animals. No birth defects have been definitively linked to PFAS exposure in humans.
Because birth defects can be caused by a complex mix of genetic, medical, behavioral and environmental factors, no conclusions regarding links between PFAS or other exposures and birth defects can be drawn from this analysis. The Birth Defects Monitoring Program does not routinely collect information about specific exposures.
The program is developing plans to examine the occurrence of brain anomalies across North Carolina and will continue to monitor geographic variations in the occurrence of birth defects throughout the state. Findings will be shared with research partners.

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