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What’s New with PFAS
Fall 2019

Screenshot: Interactive map of PFAS contamination in the U.S. constructed by EWG and SSEHRI

About SSEHRI’s PFAS lab group:

The mission of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute is to conduct social science-oriented research, teaching, community engagement, and policy work in the area of environmental health.  

SSEHRI’s NSF-funded research investigates the discovery and re-discovery of per- and polyfluorinated chemicals (or PFASs), a class of carbon-fluorine-based chemicals widely used in industrial production and found in numerous consumer products.  Exposure to certain PFASs has been linked to various human health effects, including immunodeficiencies, thyroid disorders, elevated cholesterol, birth defects, and some cancers. This project seeks to understand the confluence of actors and conditions necessary for the periodic discoveries of the health and environmental impacts of these chemicals.  Additionally, this project will focus on how selected contamination episodes have impacted the awareness, regulation and research related to this class of chemicals.

This newsletter will provide a periodic overview of the latest developments in PFAS science, regulation, events, and activism. It features contributions (in no particular order) from various PFAS-related research groups, advocacy organizations, and  community activist groups; along with highlights in PFAS news media. Many thanks to our collaborators for their great work!

Queries and suggestions can be directed to our email: pfasproject@gmail.com



Testing For Pease:
by Andrea Amico

It has been a busy Fall for Testing for Pease. On September, 13, 2019, Andrea Amico gave a TEDx talk on her story as a PFAS community leader. She closed her talk with a line that resonates with many PFAS community leaders: “I’m never going to stop. Because I am just as persistent as PFAS”.

Another big milestone for the Pease community is that the ATSDR/CDC Pease Health Study officially began recruiting community members for the study in October. Pease will serve as the model health study for the ATSDR/CDC multi site health study. Both the Pease health study and the multi site health study has been the result of fierce grassroots activism and community/government collaboration. The Pease community is excited to lead the nation in this study and help contribute to the science on PFAS and human health effects.

Civilian Exposure:
by Pat Elder

Hello friends, I’m sending you two pieces I published in the last two days.

The first one was written with the help of four Japanese and Okinawan academics. It’s a trick to receive a story about “PFAS” and find it in Japanese! But it’s amazing how I could use a google-generated translation of Japanese to arrive at a very good understanding of what the article was saying. Of course, I still needed humans to make sure the machine did its job correctly – and sometimes it did not. When you add in the cultural and linguistic differences between the Japanese and the Okinawans, it took a dozen drafts. They understand the U.S. military and the complacent Japanese government are allowing hundreds of thousands to be poisoned.

The second piece will make you shake your head. The Democrats caved on PFAS and CERCLA. Why didn’t the New York Times or the Washington Post cover this? It’s frightening when you consider the scenarios.

  1. U.S. Military is Poisoning Okinawa
  2. Democrats Back Down From Battle With Defense Department Over PFAS

More from Pat Elder:

Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger:
Executive Director, Laura Olah

On October 23, 2019 – this national Imagine a Day Without Water – 28 environmental and social justice organizations from around Wisconsin sent a joint statement to dozens of state legislators with known PFAS releases in their home districts.

The coalition, which includes groups based in impacted communities, supports a comprehensive state bill known as the CLEAR Act. For months now, Senate Bill 302/Assembly Bill 321 has been completely stalled because certain legislative committees are blocking public hearings necessary to move the bills forward.

Wisconsin lags behind other states – including Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts – that have already enacted enforceable health-based standards for PFAS. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that are very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time.

The joint statement to legislators also provides answers to 10 key questions, including why strong regulation of PFAS is necessary to protect human health and the environment in Wisconsin.

“The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has some authority under current regulations but additional state regulations will: (1) make clear the DNR’s authority specific to PFAS – which industry is already challenging, (2) provide state agencies with the necessary resources to tackle PFAS contamination in Wisconsin, and (3) require a much shorter timeline for action,” the groups said.

The proposed CLEAR Act authorizes the DNR to create PFAS Solid Waste (landfill) standards and reporting rules, requires the DNR to set criteria for certifying laboratories to test for PFAS, and gives the DNR the authority to write rules on how to properly manage PFAS-contaminated drinking water, groundwater, surface water, soil, sediment, and biosolids.

Studies in humans with PFAS exposure have shown that certain PFAS may affect growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older 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 risk of cancer.

The joint statement was organized by the PFAS Community Campaign.

Gustavus PFAS Action Coalition:
by Kelly McLaughlin

The Gustavus PFAS Action Coalition (GPAC) of Gustavus, Alaska, Gustavus Clinic Employees, Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), and Indiana University (IU) collaborated in November to offer free blood tests to Gustavus residents who are most likely to have been affected by PFAS-contaminated water.

The eligible candidates included children and adults who have been exposed to PFAS either through the Gustavus School, previous or current residences, or places of work.

The goal of this pilot effort is to document the body burden of PFAS among some of those who have been exposed in Gustavus. If the results of this study show higher than average blood PFAS levels among this group, then our long term goal is to expand this study to a larger group of people. In this case, GPAC and ACAT hope to see every person who has had a risk of exposure to PFAS-contaminated water to be able to have access to blood tests at no cost to them.

This initial pilot study was offered free of cost due to volunteers and donations from the people of Gustavus, Gustavus Clinic, ACAT, Indiana University, and GPAC.

If you missed the blood tests, reside in Gustavus, and are interested in having your blood tested, please contact Kelly McLaughlin at kellyrose.alaska@gmail.com or 907-697-3014.

If you would like to donate to GPAC, ACAT, IU, or the Gustavus Clinic, please do!

URI Superfund Research Center

On October 2nd, the URI STEEP team hosted its annual STEEP Science Day on Cape Cod, organized by the Community Engagement Core. In the morning, we hosted a session for local high school students that included presentations from STEEP researchers Rainer Lohmann (URI Graduate School of Oceanography) and Laurel Schaider (Silent Spring Institute) and trainee Alicia Crisalli (URI School of Pharmacy). The session also included an interactive display of groundwater flow and overview of remediation activities by Rose Forbes and Doug Karsen of Joint Base Cape Cod and a discussion of municipal water treatment by Hans Keijser, superintendent of the Hyannis Water System.

Laurel Schaider and Alyson McCann (URI Cooperative Extension) shared preliminary findings from STEEP’s private wells study on Cape Cod. Angela Slitt (URI College of Pharmacy) discussed her toxicological research on PFAS effects on the liver. Carmen Messerlian (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health) discussed how medical monitoring can identify early stages of health conditions that can occur from PFAS exposure.

Trainee Heidi Pickard (Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences) discussed PFAS groundwater and surface water fate and transport studies. Following the presentations, Cape Cod residents asked many thought-provoking questions and voiced their concerns about water quality and public health. Read more in the Cape Cod Times.

Green Science Policy Institute:
by Tom Bruton & Arlene Blum

Have you ever wondered where to buy a rain jacket made without PFAS? What about PFAS-free carpeting or dental floss? If so, you are not alone. To begin answering these questions, Green Science Policy is compiling a list of PFAS-free consumer products on our new PFAS Central site. We hope that highlighting the leadership of companies on the list will motivate other manufacturers to reduce their use of “forever chemicals.” Know of other PFAS-free brands or product lines that we should add? Please email Seth@GreenSciencePolicy.org

It is likely that the website for the important new film Dark Waters will be linking to our PFAS-free page and we would like to list as many products as possible. Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway play our good friend Rob Bilott and his wife for this thrilling story about a community with PFAS-contaminated air and water and the duplicity of DuPont.

This gripping film has the potential to bring our message about reducing harm from toxic chemicals to a much wider audience. We are working with the movie’s social action team in the hopes that this film will have a large impact as did other Participant films such as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and Spotlight.

Please check out the Dark Waters trailer and Rob’s excellent new book Exposure: Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer’s Twenty-Year Battle against DuPont.

Toxic-Free Future:
by Laurie Valeriano & Liz Hitchcock

These next few weeks are crunch time in Congress for negotiations on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

When the House and Senate voted on their annual military spending bills early this summer, both chambers included welcome and necessary provisions to end the use of firefighting foams containing dangerous PFAS chemicals. Congress now has to decide on the timetable to end the military’s use of firefighting foams containing these highly toxic “forever” chemicals that have contaminated the drinking water for one in 20 people in America.

The chemical lobby is peddling a myth to Congressional offices that firefighting foams without PFAS don’t put out fires. If this were true, why did one of the largest chemical companies in the world recently volunteer to stop using the foam at its own chemical plants? And why are airports and militaries around the globe successfully using PFAS-free alternatives?

DuPont recently announced it will eliminate the purchase and use of ALL firefighting foams made with PFAS at its chemical plant sites by the end of 2021. This is not a small announcement given DuPont’s importance as one of the largest manufacturers of PFAS before it spun off that part of its business to Chemours in 2015. Maybe it has something to do with the huge liability—environmental and public health costs—mounting for the company and others? Choosing effective, safer alternatives is a smart way to avoid those costs and devastating impacts to communities, especially military families.

The U.S. Department of Defense is already looking at $2 billion in community and drinking water cleanup costs from the use of PFAS foams and has spent millions of dollars burning millions of gallons of old foams, which only leads to more pollution. But instead of simply switching to PFAS-free foams, the military has started outfitting bases around the country with new PFAS foam. The result will be even more cleanup costs down the road that taxpayers may ultimately have to pay for.

In addition to DuPont, many other facilities, military bases, and airports around the globe have made the switch to safer, effective alternatives to PFAS firefighting foams. For example, the Danish Royal Airforce moved to fluorine-free foams several years ago, and reports “fluorine-free foam works flawlessly.” Major airports around the world have switched, including Charles de Gaulle (Paris), Copenhagen, Dubai, Heathrow (London), Stuttgart, Brussels, and others. Heathrow’s fire chief reports: “Since purchasing our fluorine-free foam, we have used it on two separate aircraft fires (an A321 and a 787) and it worked perfectly.”

Safer effective alternatives to PFAS foams are in use all around the world. The U.S. Department of Defense should use them to protect the health of communities and firefighters. We urge Congress to hold firm and phase out military use of PFAS foam as soon as possible to safeguard military families and the drinking water of millions of Americans.

Silent Spring Institute:
Researching the Environment and Women’s Health

Silent Spring Institute is the recipient of an initial $1 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to investigate the human health effects from exposure to PFAS contaminants in drinking water.

The study is one of seven projects being funded through ATSDR’s new health study on PFAS, involving multiple communities across the United States. The grant covers the first year of a five-year effort. The Silent Spring project will focus on two communities in Eastern Massachusetts—Hyannis and Ayer—where public drinking water supplies have been contaminated by PFAS from the use of firefighting foams at nearby fire training areas.

“Despite the growing number of towns dealing with contamination, there have been few human health studies in communities that have been exposed to PFAS in drinking water,” says co-principal investigator Laurel Schaider, PhD, an environmental chemist at Silent Spring Institute. “The ATSDR health study is the first to look at exposures at multiple sites across the country, allowing us to identify health effects that are hard to study by looking at each community separately.”

Schaider is leading the Silent Spring project in collaboration with researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Eastern Research Group. The community partners include People of Ayer Concerned about the Environment (PACE) and Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition (MBCC).

The team plans to collect blood samples from 1000 adults and 300 children in Hyannis and Ayer. The researchers will analyze the samples for a range of known PFAS chemicals, biological markers of different health effects (including effects on the immune system, reproduction, cholesterol levels, and neurobehavioral effects in children), and previously unknown PFAS chemicals that the study participants may have been exposed to.

Because PFAS can pass through the placenta and be transferred to babies through breast milk, the researchers will also use modeling to estimate how much children are exposed to PFAS in the womb and through breastfeeding.

Combined findings from the multi-site health study will help local officials and state and federal government agencies make better decisions about how to protect public health and support affected communities in mitigating PFAS exposures. “Engaging community members in learning about their exposures can also help them know how to talk to their health care providers or advocate for health monitoring,” says Schaider.

“This is a pressing public health issue,” says Laurie Nehring, president of PACE. “Communities across the country are discovering that their water is contaminated. They’re concerned and they want answers, so it’s important that we fully understand what the risks are so we can take steps to protect our health.”