PARKERSBURG — The connection between drinking water contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, found in several drinking water systems in the region, and certain health outcomes is the subject of a new study being funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. 

Often referred to as PFAS, the substances have been used in a variety of materials, including non-stick cookware; water-repellent clothing; stain-resistant fabrics and carpets; some cosmetics; and some firefighting foams. C8, also known as perfluorooctanic acid or C8 and PFOS, is of the same family as PFAS and was used by DuPont to make Teflon at the Washington Works plant in Wood County. Its use has been discontinued, and it was replaced with GenX, another chemical in the same family. 

The settlement of a 2001 class-action lawsuit over the presence of C8 in local water systems resulted in the creation of a science panel that studied the health of approximately 70,000 affected residents and found a probable link between C8 and kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension including preeclampsia and hypercholesterolemia. As part of the settlement, DuPont installed activated carbon filtration systems at six water districts. 

In 2017, DuPont spinoff Chemours installed a carbon filtration system in Vienna after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a new lifetime health advisory of 0.07 parts per billion for C8 and the city’s wells were found to have higher concentrations. 

The CDC and ATSDR announced the start of the study Monday, along with the awarding of seven $1 million to the following institutions to study exposure in the listed communities: 

  • Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, to look at exposures in El Paso County, Colorado.
  • Michigan State Department of Health and Human Services to look at exposures in Parchment/Cooper Township and North Kent County, Michigan.
  • RTI International and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, to look at exposures in Montgomery and Bucks counties, Pennsylvania.
  • Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences: School of Public Health, to look at exposures in Gloucester County, New Jersey.
  • Silent Spring Institute, to look at exposures in Hyannis and Ayer, Maryland.
  • University at Albany, State University of New York and New York State Department of Health, to look at exposures in Hoosick Falls and Newburgh, New York.
  • University of California-Irvine, to look at exposures in communities near the UC Irvine Medical Center.

The study was authorized by the National Defense Authorization Acts of 2018 and 2019, according to the release. It will recruit at least 2,000 children ages 4 to 17 and 6,000 adults age 18 and older who were exposed to PFAS-contaminated drinking water. 

“There is much that is unknown about the health effects of exposures to these chemicals,” said Patrick Breysse, director of ATSDR and CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health. “The multi-site study will advance the scientific evidence on the human health effects of PFAS and provide some answers to communities exposed to the contaminated drinking water.” 

The information from the study will help communities throughout the country where drinking water has been exposed to PFAS make better decisions about how to protect public health, the release says. 

Some studies have shown that exposure to certain PFAS might adversely affect growth, learning and behavior of infants and children; lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant; interfere with the body’s natural hormones; increase cholesterol levels; affect the immune system; and increase the risks for some cancers. 

Last week, the U.S. Department of Defense issued the operating principles for a PFAS Task Force established in July to coordinate the department’s efforts to assess and address the effects of PFAS releases affecting military personnel, their families and the communities surrounding bases. 

Chaired by the assistant secretary of defense for sustainment, the task force will meet at least monthly to review PFAS-related issues affecting the DOD and prioritize them for action; make policy and investment recommendations to address the issues; and coordinate with other federal agencies “to ensure a whole-of-government approach to this national issue.” 

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., co-sponsored legislation with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that was amended into the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. Among its requirements were a nationwide survey of impacted areas to identify sources of PFAS emissions, adding PFAS to the Toxic Release Inventory and calling for more studies on the health and environmental effects of PFAS. 

“PFAS pollution has created significant public health challenges across the country — including in West Virginia — and I am encouraged by efforts like the Department of Defense task force to address this issue and CDC and ATSDR’s announcement to begin a multi-site PFAS study,” Capito said. “Efforts like these, as well as the legislative measures I’ve supported and led, are necessary steps that will help us take responsible action to protect the health of Americans across the country and the environment.”