Sustained Outrage

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On Friday, I wrote a story for Saturday’s Gazette-Mail about the latest C8 Science Panel report, which found high levels of PFOA and a similar chemical, PFOS, to be associated with higher cholesterol among children in communities surrounding the DuPont Co. Washington Works plant near Parkersburg (see photo above).

The Science Panel has finally added its report to its Web site, after filing a copy of it with the Wood Circuit Court Friday. I’m not aware of any efforts by the Science Panel to call attention to this finding by contacting the press, let alone telling area residents about it through a public meeting or a press conference.

But today, some even bigger news was published on the C8/PFOA front: A major new study is out that finds higher cholesterol levels are associated with concentrations of PFOA in human blood right at the average levels in the U.S. general population.

This new paper, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives,  was authored by Jessica Nelson, Elizabeth Hatch and Thomas Webster of the Boston University School of Public Health.

The findings are based on blood samples from about 2,100 people, from data collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES, which is done by the CDC. It found an association between high cholesterol (both total and non-HDL, or “bad cholesterol”) and concentrations in the blood of PFOA (or C8), PFOS and another similar chemical, PFNA.

Previous studies of highly exposed workers, and of highly exposed non-workers like those who live near the DuPont Parkersburg plant, have  found associations with high cholesterol. But the new study examined blood samples from the general U.S. population, with a leve of these chemicals — 3.8 parts per billion for C8 — similar to average Americans who don’t work in a chemical plant or live near one that used these chemicals.

Of course, these studies don’t prove that exposure to these chemicals caused  increased cholesterol levels. They simply show that folks with higher levels of the chemicals were more likely to have increased cholesterol than folks with lower levels of the chemicals. One problem is that the studies don’t show which came first — the chemical exposure or the increased cholesterol.

Still, the authors of the latest paper concluded:

… PFCs may be exerting an effect on cholesterol metabolism at environmentally relevant exposures … While this study does not demonstrate a causal association between PFC exposure and serum cholesterol levels, it provides clues about where to focus future epidemiologic and toxicologic research.

Despite its limitations, this study contributes to the literature suggesting that PFC exposure may disrupt cholesterol metabolism or homeostasis in humans.