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Cape Fear River

Coordinates: 33°53′08″N 078°00′46″W / 33.88556°N 78.01278°W / 33.88556; -78.01278
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Cape Fear River
Tributary to Atlantic Ocean
Map of the Cape Fear River drainage basin
CountryUnited States
StateNorth Carolina
New Hanover
Physical characteristics
Sourceconfluence of Deep River and Haw River
 • locationabout 1 mile southeast of Moncure, North Carolina
 • coordinates35°35′48″N 079°03′07″W / 35.59667°N 79.05194°W / 35.59667; -79.05194[1]
 • elevation154 ft (47 m)[2]
MouthAtlantic Ocean
 • location
between Oak Island and Bald Head Island
 • coordinates
33°53′08″N 078°00′46″W / 33.88556°N 78.01278°W / 33.88556; -78.01278[1]
 • elevation
0 ft (0 m)[2]
Length191.08 mi (307.51 km)[3]
Basin size9,120.61 square miles (23,622.3 km2)[4]
 • locationAtlantic Ocean
 • average9,959.87 cu ft/s (282.032 m3/s) at mouth with Atlantic Ocean[4]
Basin features
Progressiongenerally southeast
River systemCape Fear River
 • leftGulf Creek, Buckhorn Creek, Parkers Creek, Avents Creek, Hector Creek, Neills Creek, Dry Creek, Buies Creek, Thorntons Creek, Juniper Creek, Cedar Creek, Phillips Creek, Harrison Creek, Ellis Creek, Turnbull Creek, Mulford Creek, Bandeau Creek, Frenchs Creek, Black River, Northeast Cape Fear River, Barnards Creek, Mott Creek, Telfairs Creek
 • rightWombles Creek, Little Shaddox Creek, Lick Creek, Bush Creek, Fall Creek, Daniels Creek, Cedar Creek, Camels Creek, Little Creek, Fish Creek, Poorhouse Creek, Upper Little River, Little River, Carvers Creek, Cross Creek, Rockfish Creek, Grays Creek, Willis Creek, Georgia Branch, Hucklebrry Swamp, Black Swamp, Bakers Creek, Browns Creek, Pemberton Creek, Hammonds Creek, Drunken Run, Donoho Creek, Carvers Creek, Plummers Run, Steep Run, Weyman Creek, Double Branch, Livingston Creek, Bryant Mill Creek, Grist Mill Branch, Bay Branch, Indian Creek, Cartwheel Branch, Alligator Creek, Brunswick River, Mallory Creek, Little Mallory Creek, Town Creek, Sand Hill Creek, Liliput Creek, Orton Creek, Walden Creek, Price Creek
BridgesAvents Ferry Road, US 401-NC 210, NC 217, I-295, I-95, NC 24-210, I-95, Tarheel Ferry Road, US 701, General Howe Highway (NC 11), US 17-74, US 17

The Cape Fear River is a 191.08-mile-long (307.51 km)[5] blackwater river in east-central North Carolina. It flows into the Atlantic Ocean near Cape Fear, from which it takes its name. The river is formed at the confluence of the Haw River and the Deep River (North Carolina) in the town of Moncure, North Carolina. Its river basin is the largest in the state: 9,149 sq mi.[6]

The river is the most industrialized river in North Carolina, lined with power plants, manufacturing plants, wastewater treatment plants, landfills, paper mills, and industrial agriculture.[7] Relatedly, the river is polluted by various substances, including suspended solids and manmade chemicals. These chemicals include per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), GenX, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, perfluorooctanoic acid, byproducts of production of the fluoropolymer Nafion; and intermediates used to make other fluoropolymers (e.g. PPVE, PEVE and PMVE perfluoroether). Industrial chemicals such as 1,4-Dioxane and other pollutants have been found in its tributary, the Haw River.

In 2020, a national study of tap water found the highest concentration of PFAS in Brunswick County, which gets its drinking water from the Cape Fear River.[8]

Variant names[edit]

According to the Geographic Names Information System, the Cape Fear River has also been known historically as:[9]

  • Cape Fair River
  • Cape-Feare River
  • Charle River
  • Charles River
  • Clarendon River
  • North East Cape Fear River
  • North West Branch
  • Rio Jorda


The Cape Fear River at Smith Creek in Wilmington, NC.

It is formed at Haywood, near the county line between Lee and Chatham Counties, by the confluence of the Deep and Haw Rivers just below Jordan Lake. It flows southeast past Lillington, Fayetteville, and Elizabethtown, then receives the Black River about 10 miles (16 km) northwest of Wilmington. At Wilmington, it receives the Northeast Cape Fear River and Brunswick River, turns south, widening as an estuary and entering the Atlantic about 3 miles (5 km) west of Cape Fear.

During the colonial era, the river provided a principal transportation route to the interior of North Carolina.[10] Today the river is navigable as far as Fayetteville through a series of locks and dams. The estuary of the river furnishes a segment of the route of the Intracoastal Waterway.

The East Coast Greenway runs along the river.



The Cape Fear River is polluted by industry, cities, and farmland in its drainage basin.[11] The pollution comes from both point source and nonpoint sources, including farms, city runoff, and erosion of the river's banks, which contribute pollution such as harmful chemicals and fertilizers, and larger sediments like suspended solids.[6][11][12] Pollutants include coal ash.[13] As with any river, the water quality varies in different regions, depending on abiotic and biotic factors.[6]

In 2020, a study found that striped bass in the river have the highest rates of PFAS documented in North American fish.[14] A 2018 study found that bass from the river had 40 times the amount of PFAS in their blood than did bass raised in an aquaculture facility.[13]

In 2020, studies by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality found "staggering" concentrations of forever chemicals begin dumped into the Deep River, a major tributary to the Cape Fear River. One sample contained PFOS at 1 part per billion, "more than 14 times greater than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's health advisory of 70 parts per trillion for drinking water", North Carolina Heath News reported.[8]

In 2020, a national study of tap water found the highest concentration of PFAS in Brunswick County, which gets its drinking water from the Cape Fear River.[8]

In July 2023, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services issued a fish consumption advisory for certain freshwater fish species from the middle and lower Cape Fear River due to contamination with perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS).[15]

Suspended solids[edit]

Suspended solids refers to any particle (living or nonliving) discharged into an aquatic system that remains in suspension. These particles can find their way into rivers via nonpoint-source pollution or through larger point-source pollution events such as Hurricane Florence in 2018. The storm caused a dam to fail, which caused a mass leakage of coal ash into the Cape Fear River about 5 miles northwest of Wilmington, North Carolina.

GenX chemicals[edit]

GenX is a chemical in the group of manmade per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS used for nonstick, water- and stain-repellent items. GenX is a replacement PFAS, since older and more toxic PFAs are being phased out.[16] GenX is made at the Chemours plant in Fayetteville, NC and has gotten into the Cape Fear River from the plant's wastewater.[17] Like other PFAS, GenX does not easily break down and can accumulate in the environment.[16] Because of this quality, GenX can cause problems for both people and wildlife.

Chemours' wastewater put into the Cape Fear River poses a drinking-water issue for residents of the Fayetteville area and people further down the river. Several groundwater wells in Fayetteville had detections of GenX.[18] At the mouth of the river, the city of Wilmington uses the Cape Fear as a drinking-water source. Blood samples of a group of Wilmington residents showed detections of GenX.[19]

In several studies, GenX has been shown to affect wildlife. PFAS were detected in striped bass caught from the Cape Fear, and the chemical affected the liver and immune system.[20] In plants, GenX reduced the biomass and bioaccumulated in the organism. This bioaccumulation did differ between species.[21]

In a study done to test the ability of retention and how could the GenX chemical be transported in porous materials, results showed that for different forms of the GenX chemical the absorption rate was higher. This research is important to help future researchers understand the tendencies of this chemical. Contaminated sites should be inspected from the water to the soil due to the ability of GenX to travel/transport through porous material such as soil.[22]

The lack of information on the GenX chemical in North Carolina has led to the gap of knowledge about ways in which people may be exposed to these chemicals other than drinking water. Information is also limited on the health effects caused by the GenX chemical, little experiments on animals show liver damage, pancreas damage, etc. There are no federal guidelines regarding the GenX chemical. However, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has set a “health goal”, a non-regulated, and non-enforceable low contamination level where no side effects, over time, would be expected.[23]

Little is known about the effectiveness of GenX and PFEA removal from contaminated waters using methods such as ozonation and bio-filtration. Carbon in various forms can be used to treat water that has been contaminated. Experiments done with this technique showed that shorter PFAS did not absorb.[24]   

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Cape Fear River
  2. ^ a b "Cape Fear River Topo Map, Brunswick County NC (Southport Area)". TopoZone. Locality, LLC. Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  3. ^ "ArcGIS Web Application". epa.maps.arcgis.com. US EPA. Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Cape Fear River Watershed Report". Waters Geoviewer. US EPA. Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  5. ^ Cape Fear River Archived April 1, 2005, at the Wayback Machine, The Columbia Gazetteer of North America: Note that despite the gazetteer's claim of the river being the longest entirely within North Carolina, the Neuse River Archived 2009-06-09 at the Wayback Machine is longer
  6. ^ a b c "Basin wide Assessment Report Cape Fear River Basin" (PDF). August 2004 – via NCDENR. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ Online, Coastal Review (2022-06-08). "Climate change, pollution imperil Cape Fear, advocates say". North Carolina Health News. Retrieved 2022-10-28.
  8. ^ a b c Barnes, Greg (2020-02-03). "New DEQ data show 'staggering' levels of PFAS in Cape Fear River basin". North Carolina Health News. Retrieved 2022-10-28.
  9. ^ "GNIS Detail - Cape Fear River". geonames.usgs.gov. Retrieved 2021-03-10.
  10. ^ "Cape Fear River | NCpedia". dev.ncpedia.org. Retrieved 2021-03-10.
  11. ^ a b US EPA, OW (2015-09-15). "Basic Information about Nonpoint Source (NPS) Pollution". US EPA. Retrieved 2020-11-16.
  12. ^ US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Nonpoint Source Pollution, NOS Education Offering". oceanservice.noaa.gov. Retrieved 2020-11-16.
  13. ^ a b "Toxic 'forever chemicals' flow freely through Cape Fear River—and now its fish". National Geographic. 2020-03-24. Archived from the original on March 10, 2021. Retrieved 2022-10-29.
  14. ^ "Toxic 'forever chemicals' flow freely through Cape Fear River—and now its fish". Science. 2020-03-24. Archived from the original on March 10, 2021. Retrieved 2022-10-28.
  15. ^ "NCDHHS Recommends Limiting Fish Consumption from the Middle and Lower Cape Fear River Due to Contamination With "Forever Chemicals"". NCDHHS (Press release). NC Department of Health and Human Services. 13 July 2023. Retrieved 30 August 2023.
  16. ^ a b US EPA, OA (2016-03-30). "Basic Information on PFAS". US EPA. Retrieved 2020-10-30.
  17. ^ "NC DEQ: GenX Investigation". deq.nc.gov. Retrieved 2020-10-30.
  18. ^ "NC DEQ: Groundwater". deq.nc.gov. Retrieved 2020-11-04.
  19. ^ Kotlarz Nadine; McCord James; Collier David; Lea C. Suzanne; Strynar Mark; Lindstrom Andrew B.; Wilkie Adrien A.; Islam Jessica Y.; Matney Katelyn; Tarte Phillip; Polera M.E. (2020). "Measurement of Novel, Drinking Water-Associated PFAS in Blood from Adults and Children in Wilmington, North Carolina". Environmental Health Perspectives. 128 (7): 077005. doi:10.1289/EHP6837. PMC 7375159. PMID 32697103.
  20. ^ Guillette, T.C.; McCord, James; Guillette, Matthew; Polera, M.E.; Rachels, Kyle T.; Morgeson, Clint; Kotlarz, Nadine; Knappe, Detlef R.U.; Reading, Benjamin J.; Strynar, Mark; Belcher, Scott M. (2020-03-01). "Elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in Cape Fear River Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis) are associated with biomarkers of altered immune and liver function". Environment International. 136: 105358. Bibcode:2020EnInt.13605358G. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2019.105358. ISSN 0160-4120. PMC 7064817. PMID 32044175.
  21. ^ Chen, Chih-Hung; Yang, Shih-Hung; Liu, Yina; Jamieson, Pierce; Shan, Libo; Chu, Kung-Hui (2020-04-01). "Accumulation and phytotoxicity of perfluorooctanoic acid and 2,3,3,3-tetrafluoro-2-(heptafluoropropoxy)propanoate in Arabidopsis thaliana and Nicotiana benthamiana". Environmental Pollution. 259: 113817. Bibcode:2020EPoll.25913817C. doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2019.113817. ISSN 0269-7491. PMC 7307574. PMID 31918129.
  22. ^ Yan, Ni; Ji, Yifan; Zhang, Bohan; Zheng, Xilai; Brusseau, Mark L. (2020-10-06). "Transport of GenX in Saturated and Unsaturated Porous Media". Environmental Science & Technology. 54 (19): 11876–11885. Bibcode:2020EnST...5411876Y. doi:10.1021/acs.est.9b07790. ISSN 0013-936X. PMC 7654438. PMID 32972138.
  23. ^ North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (2017). "GenX Health Information" (PDF). NC DHHS. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2019-04-06.
  24. ^ Hopkins, Zachary R.; Sun, Mei; DeWitt, Jamie C.; Knappe, Detlef R.U. (2018-06-14). "Recently Detected Drinking Water Contaminants: GenX and Other Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Ether Acids: JOURNAL AWWA". Journal - American Water Works Association. 110 (7): 13–28. doi:10.1002/awwa.1073.

Featured in Season 4 of the [TV series] "Outlander". Season 4 of Outlander, on IMDB

Sources and external links[edit]