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.

Another judge heard from: PFOA suit allowed in N.J.

dupont.jpgLess than a week after a major victory in a federal court in West Virginia, DuPont Co. today was handed a serious setback in its efforts to fend off citizen lawsuits over PFOA pollution.

The ruling came in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey, where residents are suing DuPont over contamination of their drinking water with ammonium perfluorooctanoate, or PFOA, also known as C8.

Ruling in two different cases against DuPont, U.S. District Judge Renee Marie Bumb allowed residents to pursue claims of private nuisance and strict liability as class-action suits against the chemical giant.

I’ve posted a copy of the 44-page decision here.

The result is quite different from that in a similar West Virginia case, where U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin has declined to allow residents to proceed as a class and — in a bombshell ruling last week — dismissed all claims against DuPont except for medical monitoring.

Goodwin was ruling in a case brought by residents of the city of Parkersburg, whose water supply has been polluted with C8 from DuPont’s nearby Washington Works plant. Unlike residents who live outside the city of Parkersburg and get their water from other local water systems, Parkersburg residents have not been offered water treatment or alternative water supplies provided or funded by DuPont.

In New Jersey, residents allege DuPont’s Chambers Work plant in Deepwater polluted drinking water supplies of the Penn’s Grove Water Supply Company and of private residential wells.

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EPA lists PFOA among chemicals for new reviews

As part of a plan to reform the nation’s regulation of toxic chemicals, the Obama administration tonight announced it would conduct a new review of the health effects of  perfluorinated chemicals including PFOA, or C8.

lisaonbrown.jpgThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that PFCs are among six chemicals being considered for development of  “Existing Chemical Action Plans” as part of the administration’s  “comprehensive approach” to improve EPA’s policing of toxic chemicals.

There is tons of information from EPA about this program here, and some solid news coverage elsewhere from  Elizabeth Weise at USA Today and Jane Kay at Environmental Health News.

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C8 update: EPA may set limit for PFOA and PFOS

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This morning, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a move that could be another step in the long process of regulating water pollution related to C8 and other perfluorinated chemicals.

EPA released the final version of  “Contaminant Candidate List 3,” or a collection of chemicals that aren’t currently regulated, but are believed to be in our drinking water and might need limits set under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

This list itself is here, and there’s tons more information about the selection process here.

For folks who are concerned about PFCs, there’s big news here … The draft CCL3, released in February for public comment, included perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA or C8.  But, that draft list did not include perfluorooctanyl sulfate, or PFOS.

The final list, though, includes both PFOA and PFOS.

Under the law, EPA is required to make regulatory determinations — decide whether limits are needed — for at least five of the chemicals on this list over the next five years.

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Recent studies have been examining a variety of potential ways that humans are exposed to C8 and similar toxic chemicals used in non-stick and stain-resistant products.

(See previous coverage here, here, here and here).

But now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has quietly posted on its Web site a study — dated March 2009 — which tries to sort out and rank potential sources of exposure in non-occupational, indoor environments (our homes).

For this study, EPA scientists analyzed the amount of perfluorocarboxylic acids (PFCAs) in 116 samples of various consumer articles known to have been made with C8 and related chemicals. These items, purchased at retail outlets between March 2007 and March 2008, included pre-treated carpeting, carpet-care liquids, treated clothing, food wrappers, upholstery, cookware, sealants and tapes — even dental floss. They also tried to estimate how much of these items would be found in average American homes.

What did they find? In short:

In typical American homes with carpeted floors, pre-treated carpet and commercial carpet-care liquids are likely the most significant PFCA sources among the 13 article categories studied.

For homes without carpeting, floor waxes and stone/tile/wood sealants that contain fluorotelomers products are important sources of PFCAs.

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Federal toxics agency weighs in on PFOA science

The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Control has issued a huge report — 404 page in all — outlining its take on the science surrounding potential health effects of perfluorinated chemicals like PFOA, or C8.

You can read portions of the report here, or download the entire thing as a .pdf file here (careful, it’s 10 MB).

The report itself is called a Toxicological Profile, which is a document that summarizes the state of the science about a chemical. Under the 1986 amendments to the Superfund law, ATSDR is required to prepare such documents, typically for chemicals that are found at sites that are the National Priorities List for toxic cleanups.

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A couple of months ago, a major article came out in a peer-reviewed journal that indicated the federal government’s health advisory for water contaminated with the toxic chemical PFOA was not nearly stringent enough.

The Gazette carried an article about the study, which was especially interesting because it was produced by scientists with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which is where Lisa P. Jackson worked before President Barack Obama picked her to be administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

It turns out that Jackson, while still running the New Jersey DEP, took a special interest in this study — to the point that she tried to block, or at least slow down, its publication in the publicly available scientific literature.

Back in October 2008, Jackson e-mailed Eileen Murphy, director of the N.J. DEP’s Division of Science, Research and Toxicology, saying:

I believe this paper should be pulled from submission for publication pending the results of a peer review by a panel of scientists. I believe the same requirement should be applied to all scientific papers by members of this department that are based on work they do for this department or data that they have access to because of their work for this department. I thought that was SOP now? If not, it should be.

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A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, give us more information about how little the government knows about what toxic chemicals are doing to human health. And interestingly, part of the report focuses on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lax enforcement efforts regarding DuPont Co.’s toxic chemical, C8.

In general, the report focuses on EPA’s failure to make good use of the growing body of “bio-monitoring data”– information about the levels of chemicals in human tissues or blood — that is out there. According to GAO investigators:

While EPA has initiated several research programs to make bio-monitoring more useful to its risk assessment process, it has not developed a comprehensive strategy for this research that takes into account its own research efforts and those of the multiple federal agencies and other organizations involved in bio-monitoring research.

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3M’s chemical plant at Cottage Grove, Minn.

Sustained Outrage readers know we’ve been following a variety of issues surrounding C8 and other perfluorinated chemicals that have been widely used in out society, but are being found to be highly toxic. (See a collection of previous posts here).

So, I wanted to pass on some related news from two other states where these chemicals have been hot-button issues.

First, from New Jersey, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the state agency that has been warning about the dangers of C8-contaminated drinking water is being disbanded.

As I explained in a Gazette story last week, researchers from New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection published a peer-reviewed journal article that questioned whether a federal drinking water advisory for C8 was strong enough.  As I explained in my story:

Researchers concluded that a long-term exposure limit for C8, based on the health studies EPA reviewed, would be about 0.04 parts per billion — 10 times more stringent that EPA recommended. And that level — 0.04 parts per billion — is the guidance level set by New Jersey authorities for drinking water in their state.

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Wilbur Earl Tennant, 1942-2009

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The DuPont Co. Washington Works plant, shown above, used and emitted the toxic chemical C8 for decades.

The blog by Mid-Ohio Valley journalist Callie Lyons passes on the sad news that Wilbur Earl Tennant has died at the age of 67. Don’t know who Wilbur Tennant was? Well, his formal obituary (see here and here)  in the local media around Parkersburg didn’t tell the full story.

That’s because he didn’t spend a lot of time putting himself in the spotlight. But if you have followed and felt educated by any of the news to come out in the last decade about the dangers of C8 and other perfluorinated chemicals, Mr. Tennant is one of the people you should have thanked. It was he and his family that really got the ball rolling on an investigation of these chemicals, how they got into people and the environment, and what they are doing to us.

As Callie recounts on her blog (and in much more detail in her book, Stain-Resistant, Nonstick, Waterproof and Lethal: The Hidden Dangers of C8)

Tennant and his two brothers and their wives began searching for answers in the early 1980s after losing an entire herd of cattle to a mysterious wasting disease. Later they discovered that DuPont was using an adjacent lot as landfill for C8 and other substances leftover from production.

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