Letter to ATSDR Director re: omissions from PFAS website

 January 30, 2020

Dr. Patrick Breysse, Director

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

4770 Buford Highway NE

Atlanta, Georgia 30341

Dear Director Breysse:

The Environmental Working Group is writing to urge ATSDR, an agency on the front lines of the fight to protect public health from PFAS pollution, to provide on its website the most robust, easily accessible information for the public, medical professionals and policymakers.

EWG is concerned that information on two critical health impacts specifying the serious risks that infants, children and women may face from exposure to toxic fluorinated chemicals, or PFAS, has been deleted from a prominent section of the ATSDR website.

In 2019, the section of the ATSDR site titled “Per-and Polyfluororoalkyl Substances (PFAS) and Your Health,” under “What are the health effects?” listed six adverse impacts, including:

  • Affect growth, learning and behavior of infants and older children.
  • Lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant.

The current section of the site no longer includes those two potential health effects from PFAS exposure for infants, children and women.

Earlier this week, EWG called the ATSDR Media Office to inquire about these omissions from the agency’s website, which serves as an important resource for first responders, medical professionals, academics and the general public.

EWG received a response that the deletions were the result of periodic updates to the website “to reflect the most current scientific literature” and that the section in question is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather a high level summary of the available scientific research on PFAS and its impacts on human health.

We respectfully disagree with the decision to remove those two critical health effects from such a prominent section of the agency’s website.

We strongly urge you and ATSDR to add those two health effects back to that section of the agency’s website, and consider including additional potential harms to human health that emerging scientific research now associates with exposure to PFAS compounds. The agency should also provide links to locations where more detailed reviews of potential human health impacts can be located, such as the Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyls and the ATSDR PFAS Clinical Guidance. The public should be provided with more information, not less.

In addition to the currently listed health effects, the agency’s own draft toxicological profile suggests a link between PFAS exposure and decreased fertility, increased risk of asthma, pregnancy-induced hypertension and/or pre-eclampsia, decreased birth weight and liver damage. Recent studies also indicate that increased PFAS exposure is linked to increased rates of miscarriage and reduced duration of breastfeeding. The agency should also specify the types of cancer for which PFAS exposure poses increased risk.

For more than two decades, EWG has been examining the impacts of PFAS contamination in drinking water, food, and consumer products, and in humans. Our work includes some of the earliest body burden research, which found the ubiquitous chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of newborns.

As the known extent of contamination of PFAS in the environment, including much of the nation’s drinking water supplies, continues to mount, the public and elected leaders at the state and federal levels are working to confirm and expand the knowledge needed to take action to safeguard communities from further exposure.  

We appreciate all the work ATSDR and its dedicated professional staff do each day to raise awareness about the risks of PFAS and many other contaminants, and we hope you will consider our request to include comprehensive information about adverse health effects of PFAS along with the valuable resources and information the agency provides on its website.

 Sincerely,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       David Andrews, Ph.D.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Senior Scientist                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             EWG

 Olga V Naidenko, Ph.D.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Vice President                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               EWG

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