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Poisoned Legacy

Ten Years Later, Chemical Safety and Justice for DuPont’s Teflon Victims Remain Elusive

May 1, 2015

Poisoned Legacy: The C8 Science Panel

The C8 Science Panel – three epidemiologists from Emory and Brown universities and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – was tasked with researching the health effects of PFOA based on blood samples and other health data taken from almost 70,000 residents of the mid-Ohio Valley, as well as previously published studies. The mean (average) C8 level in the mid-Ohio Valley samples was 83 parts per billion, compared to 4 parts per billion in the overall U.S. population. (C8 Science Panel 2015) The goal was to “reach a judgment about whether the disease was ‘more probably than not’ linked to PFOA.” (Steenland 2014)

Parties to the settlement anticipated that the panel would do its work in a year or two at a cost of $5 million, but it took seven years and cost about $35 million. DuPont bore the cost, far more than would have been possible with funding from federal research agencies. (Steenland 2014) Panel members later wrote:

Neither the judge nor the plaintiffs were happy with the slow pace of epidemiology. The judge called us to court in 2011 to vent his frustration with our pace. He went so far as to suggest that the settling parties fire us, but fortunately they did not agree. We argued to the court, lawyers and the public that it was better to take more time and get it right. (Steenland 2014)

It’s a good thing they did. To supplement the blood sample data, the panel reviewed the medical histories of more than 16,000 valley residents, conducted a neurobehavioral study of 300 children, another of DuPont workers and others – 12 in all. It produced more than 35 peer-reviewed publications and studied probable links between C8 and 55 diseases, including 21 types of cancer, greatly expanding knowledge of the health effects of C8.

The panel’s work was groundbreaking. In the typical class-action pollution case, both sides call expert witnesses to testify “without resolving the disputed question of whether the exposure actually caused adverse health effects.” (Steenland 2014) Rather than debating the findings of studies of the general population, the panel developed detailed information on a group of almost 70,000 people with proven high exposure to the chemical, all of whom lived in the same area, had similar lifestyles and similar exposures to other pollutants. The panel’s findings are summarized in Table 2.

Table 2. Findings of the C8 Science Panel

 

Date

Probable link

Not a probable link

Dec. 5, 2011

Pregnancy-induced hypertension & preeclampsia

Birth defects

Premature birth or low birth weight

Miscarriage and stillbirths

April 16, 2012

Testicular cancer

Kidney cancer

Adult-onset diabetes

Other types of cancer

July 30, 2012

Thyroid disease

Ulcerative colitis

Stroke

Asthma or chronic obstructive airways

Neurodevelopmental disorders in children

Influenza

Autoimmune diseases

Oct. 29, 2012

High cholesterol

Parkinson’s disease

Osteoarthritis

Liver disease

Chronic kidney disease

High blood pressure

Coronary heart disease

Source: Environmental Working Group, from C8 Science Panel Probable Link Reports

 www.c8sciencepanel.org/prob_link.html

 

Further research

Other researchers – often basing their studies on the blood samples collected for the Science Panel – have found many other links between health harms and exposure to PFOA, PFOS and other “long-chain” PFCs (those with eight or more carbon atoms). Some of the most significant findings, all published in peer-reviewed journals, are summarized in Table 3.

 

Table 3. Additional Studies on Health Hazards

of C8/PFOA, PFOS and Other Long-chain1 PFCs

 

Study

Finding

Gump 2011

Children exposed to increased levels of PFCs may have increased impulsivity.

Knox 2011

PFCs are associated with endocrine disruption in women.

Shankar 2012

Exposure to high levels of C8/PFOA may increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Grandjean 2012

Prenatal exposure to long-chain PFCs may reduce the effectiveness of children’s vaccines.

Maisonet 2012

A pregnant woman’s exposure to PFOA, PFOS and other long-chain PFCs may result in baby’s low birth weight and slowed growth as a toddler.

Halldorsoson 2012

Babies whose mothers had had higher blood levels of PFOA during pregnancy are more likely to be obese at age 20.

Kristensen 2013

Prenatal exposure to PFOA may delay the onset of puberty.

Taylor 2014

Women with higher levels of long-chain PFCs in blood may be more likely to experience early menopause.

 

  1 Perfluorinated compounds with eight or more carbon atoms

Source: Environmental Working Group, from studies as cited

Although the EPA has recommended that PFOA should not exceed 0.2 parts per billion in drinking water, the agency has not set official and enforceable standards for PFCs in water supplies. Periodically the agency requires all water utilities that serve more than 10,000 people to sample for unregulated contaminants. In the third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, EPA included PFOA, PFOS and a number of other PFCs for testing. Through early 2015, utilities had tested nearly 23,000 samples nationwide for six PFCs. They were found at or above the minimum detectable level in 29 states, as shown in Table 4. (EPA 2015C)

Table 4. Six types of PFCs were detected in nationwide water sampling.

 

State

Number of

detections

Highest level

detected

(parts per billion)

Alabama

47

0.18

Arizona

29

0.42

California

86

0.12

Colorado

206

1.30

Delaware

33

1.80

Florida

27

0.27

Georgia

1

0.01

Illinois

3

0.04

Indiana

2

0.08

Kentucky

4

0.06

Massachusetts

42

0.43

Maryland

1

0.02

Maine

4

0.29

Michigan

3

0.06

Minnesota

5

0.04

North Carolina

32

0.08

New Hampshire

4

0.12

New Jersey

50

0.07

New Mexico

1

0.01

New York

22

0.17

Ohio

7

0.21

Pennsylvania

68

1.09

South Dakota

2

0.05

Tennessee

1

0.02

Texas

7

0.05

Virginia

2

0.02

Washington

14

0.60

Wisconsin

5

0.12

West Virginia

8

0.09

29 states

716

1.80

 

Source: Environmental Working Group, from EPA monitoring for unregulated water contaminants,

The highest number of samples with PFCs came from Colorado, all from near Fort Carson, an Army base south of Colorado Springs. The source of the contamination is unknown. The highest level in any one water supply was 1.8 parts per billion of PFOS in New Castle, Del., near DuPont’s headquarters in Wilmington. That finding prompted a shutdown of the affected wells. (Montgomery 2014) High levels of PFCs were also found near DuPont’s Chambers Works plant in Deepwater, N.J., where DuPont chemist Roy Plunkett had discovered C8/PFOA back in 1938. In 2011 DuPont settled a class-action suit over PFOA contamination of the Deepwater area’s drinking water for $8.3 million. (Dunn 2011)

The testing found that only a small percentage of America’s water supply is contaminated with PFCs. But critics – including the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the American Water Works Association and even the FluoroCouncil, a global association of companies that make fluorinated chemicals – say that’s because the tests were not designed to detect lower levels of the chemical. (EPA 2011) New Jersey officials have also questioned why the testing did not include some of the next-generation PFCs its own tests had detected. (EPA 2011)

The testing methods used by New Jersey were approximately 10 times more sensitive than those specified by EPA. The less sensitive EPA tests and reporting threshold would have missed almost three-fourths of the PFC water contamination the state found in New Jersey – 80 percent if the additional chemicals New Jersey tested for were included.

The low levels of PFCs detected nationwide could mean that EPA will decline to set an enforceable standard for PFOA in drinking water, because the Safe Drinking Water Act requires that when the agency decides whether to set a standard, it must consider “the frequency and level of contaminant occurrence in public drinking water systems.” (EPA 2015D.)