PFOA and PFOS: In-Depth Look at Chemicals Creating Major Concerns

In the past few years, contamination of drinking water supplies has been discovered in several small towns in northeastern upstate New York as well as in a nearby community in North Bennington, Vermont.

Thereafter, similar contamination was discovered near a plant in New Hampshire, on Cape Cod and near Newburgh, New York.  The chemical involved in all three drinking water supplies is perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA). This chemical, or a closely related one known as PFOS, has turned up in the drinking water of multiple other localities.

What makes this discovery striking is that this contamination was discovered not through routine governmental required testing, but through the vigilance and diligence of concerned citizens.

In the case of North Bennington, the state of Vermont quickly became actively involved. While in New York, the state government was slow to react and when it did, performed rather unevenly, causing residents to consume contaminated water for many months after the contamination was discovered.

Faraci Lange is handling multiple cases in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, the two upstate New York towns where the contamination was discovered, and where efforts are now underway to deal with the problem.

 

What is PFOA?

PFOA is a man-made chemical not found in nature. It is an eight carbon chain with each but the last carbon atom bonded to fluorine atoms.  The last carbon atom is bonded to an oxygen atom and an OH group, making it an acid. However, the acid form of this molecule is not typically how it is used in manufacturing.

Ammonium perfluorooctanoate (APFO), which is the initial form of the acid, is used as a surfactant in the production of PTFE coated materials including Teflon® cooking surfaces and various waterproof and stain-proof fabrics used for carpeting, upholstery, clothing, tapes and various other uses.

As a surfactant, APFO is added to PTFE dispersions to help the chemical mixture spread evenly on whatever surface it is being applied. The object is then heated causing the PTFE to adhere to the surface and the APFO to vaporize and discharge into the air.

APFO was invented, manufactured and sold by the 3M Corporation until approximately 2001.  3M became concerned about the health hazards of APFO and decided to stop manufacturing the chemical. Thereafter, DuPont, which has been one of the largest customers of 3M in purchasing the chemical to make its Teflon® products, began to manufacture the chemical for its own use and for sale to other manufactures of PTFE resins.

In 2006, due to human health concerns, the United States Environmental Protection Agency initiated the 2010/2015 PFOA Stewardship Program. Eight major companies committed to reduce facility emissions and product contents of PFOA and related chemicals (including PFOS) on a global basis by 95% no later than 2010 and to work toward eliminating emissions and product content of these chemicals by 2015. To a large extent this goal was accomplished, but the chemicals substituted in their places are very similar man-made multiple carbon chain molecules with untested and unknown health effects.

 

How does PFOA get into drinking water?

When the vaporized APFO cools after being exhausted out of the stacks of the manufacturing facility, it forms particulate matter that is carried by the air until it settles to the ground or is washed out of the air by precipitation. Once it reaches the soil, it loses the NHgrouping and converts to the acid form.

PFOA then readily dissolves into water and washes down into the groundwater.  It also dissolves into surface waters out of the air and the remnants of the original dispersion containing APFO are frequently discharged in liquid form by these same manufacturing facilities into both ground and surface waters near the facilities.

 

What are the health hazards of PFOA?

PFOA and a related chemical PFOS, which is another eight carbon manmade molecule used in foam fire retardants, are particularly troublesome because they are both highly resistant to breakdown in the environment. Once they convert to the acid form, there is nothing in nature that breaks them down, and they will persist for decades or centuries.

Equally problematic is their persistence once they are inhaled, ingested or absorbed into the human body.  Studies have shown it takes two to seven years for the body to rid itself of half of the PFOA contained in blood serum. Thus, where there is long-term exposure and a buildup of these chemicals in the bloodstream, it can take a lifetime to reduce the levels.

Unfortunately, due to the persistence and ubiquity of these chemicals, even though they are not found in nature, they are found in all of us at low levels, usually determined to be about 2 parts per billion. People who consume water contaminated with PFOA, like the residents of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, can have levels hundreds of times above those background levels.

Studies of workers exposed to PFOA have shown multiple possible negative health effects for years. Both 3M and DuPont did internal unpublished worker studies which suggested multiple different adverse health effects, forming the basis of 3M stopping its production of the chemical. However, the most comprehensive study of PFOA health effects resulted from the 2006 settlement of a lawsuit brought against DuPont for contaminating the drinking water supply of approximately 70,000 people living in communities along the Ohio River in West Virginia and Ohio. DuPont’s Washington Works plant located in Parkersburg, WV released PFOA, which was referred to as C8, into the air and into the Ohio River causing this contamination.

A lawsuit brought on behalf of citizens in the affected communities resulted in a massive study of the health effects of this chemical funded by DuPont as a condition of the settlement. Almost 70,000 people participated by completing surveys of their health histories and being tested for PFOA in their bloodstreams. Pursuant to the settlement, the C8 Science Panel was selected by attorneys for DuPont and the plaintiffs and consisted of three nationally recognized epidemiologists. They were tasked with reviewing the data generated from the study and determining whether there were any illnesses in this population that were likely related to the PFOA exposures.

The panel concluded that PFOA created an elevated risk of kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, elevated liver enzymes, elevated uric acid levels, high cholesterol and pregnancy induced hypertension, and that in virtually all cases, the risk increased with level of exposure, which is referred to as a dose-response. Follow up studies found evidence of associations to other diseases including ovarian cancer.

 

Federal and State Regulation of PFOA

PFOA and PFOS are among thousands of man-made chemicals that were unregulated by either the state or federal governments until recently.

In 2009, the EPA identified PFOA as an emerging contaminant of concern and issued a provisional health advisory stating that short term (weeks to months) exposure to PFOA-contaminated water at a concentration of 400 parts per trillion (ppt) can cause human health effects. The EPA also advised at that time that long-term exposure to PFOS-contaminated water at a concentration of 200 parts per trillion (ppt) can cause human health effects.

Following EPA’s action in 2009, several states including Minnesota, Maine and New Jersey set drinking water limits for PFOA below EPA’s short term exposure level of 400 ppt. By 2016, EPA issued a health advisory warning that drinking water should not contain more than 70 ppt. Other states, including Vermont, set even lower limits, with Vermont setting a limit of 20 ppt. Leading scientists in the field have concluded that even these limits are too high and the standard should be set at 1 ppt.

Levels discovered in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh were as high as 600 to several thousand parts per trillion. Water filtration systems have been installed on the public water supply after residents went months only drinking bottled water. Individual point of entry treatment systems (POET) were installed on hundreds of private wells in the area. A long-term source of clean drinking water is being sought for both communities, but this will not be an easy task.

 

Civil Lawsuits against Polluters

Class action lawsuits are now underway in state and federal courts on behalf of the citizens of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, seeking recoveries from the companies responsible for the contamination.

These suits are claiming property devaluation damages and are also seeking to establish a medical surveillance program to screen the exposed population for the diseases associated with PFOA exposure to promote early diagnosis and treatment.

Faraci Lange is lead counsel in those cases. In addition, several cases have been filed by residents exposed to PFOA who have been diagnosed with illnesses associated with PFOA exposure, and more will be filed in the coming months.

 

Stephen G. Schwarz, Managing Partner of Faraci Lange, is representing plaintiffs in the Hoosick Falls water contamination class action as Co-Lead Counsel with Hadley Matarazzo.

 

 


New York Considers Tougher Water Quality Standards

The twelve-member Drinking Water Quality Council held its first meeting today to consider establishing maximum contaminant levels for toxic chemicals in New York State water.

Some say that this rule-making is necessary because of a lack of continuity in the system of federal water quality regulation.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has requested that the council consider setting the maximum contaminant levels for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), as well as perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and 1,4-Dioxane.

Brad Hutton, the deputy commissioner of public health for the New York State Department of Health, stated that the council has been given the responsibility on advising the DOH commissioner on what unregulated contaminants should be tested throughout the state.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency monitors several unregulated contaminants every five years, according to the Safe Drinking Water Act’s guidelines. This leaves gaps in the federal system’s approach of ensuring water quality.

“They have been moving too slow of a pace,” stated Hutton, stressing the state’s need of establishing its own maximum contaminant levels.

Read the full article here.


Studies Presume PFOA to be Immune Hazard for Humans

PFOA immune hazardThe National Toxicology Program recently conducted a systematic review of immunotoxicity associated with exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and concluded that the chemical is presumed to be an immune hazard to humans.

The NTP found a high level of evidence that PFOA suppressed the antibody response from
animal studies and the moderate level of evidence from studies in humans. The research also found a high level of evidence that PFOA increased hypersensitivity-related outcomes from animal studies and low level of evidence from studies in humans.

There is additional, although weaker, evidence that is primarily from epidemiological studies that PFOA reduced infectious disease resistance and increased autoimmune disease.

The evidence indicating that PFOA affects multiple aspects of the immune system supports the overall conclusion that PFOA alters immune function in humans.

Read the full report here.

Residents of Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and other communities who believe they may have been impacted by the PFOA water contamination are encouraged to contact us or submit a contamination contact form.


NYS Assembly Schedules Water Quality Hearing

water contaminationA victory for the team involved in the Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh water contamination cases was accomplished yesterday when it was announced that the Assembly will hold public hearings on water quality in New York State in early September.

Two public hearings will be held in Albany and Suffolk County related to harmful water contamination situations in various communities across New York State. The Assembly will review the causes and response to the known contaminations as well as measures to prevent future occurrences.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Steve Englebright and Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried will, “examine the issue of water contamination and assess our current laws and public policies on these matters, and how they’re working, to protect public access to safe, clean water.”

Heastie stated how, “Recent reports of water contamination in municipalities across the state have highlighted the need for a thorough review of measures to ensure clean and healthy water in our communities.”

Residents of Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and other communities who believe they may have been impacted by the PFOA water contamination are encouraged to contact us or submit a contamination contact form.


PFOA Blood Testing in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh NY

The New York State Department of Health is offering blood testing for people with concerns about PFOA contamination from living and/or working in the Hoosick Falls or Petersburgh areas. See below for details:

 

Hoosick Falls: Tuesday, July 12th from 2 PM to 7 PM

Saturday July 16th from 9 AM to 3 PM

HAYC3 Armory, Hoosick Falls, NY

 

Petersburgh:  Saturday, July 23rd from 9 AM to 2 PM

Petersburgh Veterans Memorial Community Center

Hoosick Falls Blood TestingPetersburgh Blood Testing

Residents of Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and other communities who believe they may have been impacted by the PFOA water contamination are encouraged to submit a contact form.


NYS Senate Passes Bill in Response to Groundwater Contamination

920x920The New York Senate passed important legislation today regarding the groundwater contamination issue in Hoosick Falls and its surrounding areas.

Bill S6824A provides a date-of-discovery rule for civil actions based on exposure to toxic substances, which is beneficial to the injured person as he or she often does not know at the time of the injury that harm is occurring. Discovery of an injury may only occur when cancer or another slow-developing illness arises. Before this legislation, claims could be barred before the injured party even realized that they had been injured.

This bill will extend the allowable period of time for filing a claim when a site is identified as a threat to the health of the public or the environment. This will be based on either the date when the harm was discovered or when the site was classified as a Superfund site, whichever occurs later.

The bill, which can be viewed below, still needs to be signed by Governor Cuomo.

Residents of Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and other communities who believe they may have been impacted by the PFOA water contamination are encouraged to submit a contact form.


PFOA Informational Meetings in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh

PFOA Water ContaminationPFOA Informational Meetings are being held on JUNE 7 and JUNE 8, 2016 at 6:30pm to discuss recent PFOA developments.

The Petersburgh meeting will be held on Tuesday, June 7, 2016 at 6:30 pm in the Petersburgh Veterans Memorial Community Center (PVMCC) located at 71 Main St., Petersburgh, NY 12138.

The Hoosick Falls meeting will be held on Wednesday, June 8, 2016 at 6:30 pm in the Hoosick Falls Country Club located at 73 Richmond Avenue, Hoosick Falls, NY 12090.

Items discussed will include:

  • the EPA setting the PFOA health advisory level at 70 parts per trillion and what needs to be done to make sure your drinking water is safe;
  • interpreting soon to be released PFOA blood test results and what it means for your health; and
  • your family’s potential legal options.

This meeting is being sponsored by the law firms of Chaffin Luhana LLP, Williams Cuker Berezofsky, LLC and Faraci Lange, LLP.

Please attend if you are a client of these firms or a resident not represented by legal counsel who is interested in learning more about general PFOA developments or the litigation.