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.


New Water Quality Council Established and Ready to Address PFOA

Twelve members of a new state Drinking Water Quality Council have been named, preparing the group to hold its first official meeting on October 2nd.

Governor Andrew Cuomo named his four designated council members on Friday. He also announced that the first task of the council will be to recommend maximum contaminant levels for PFOA, among other harmful chemicals.

The council is obligated to return its list of recommended maximum contaminant levels by October 2nd, 2018. The list would then be updated if needed on an annual basis.

“New York is once again stepping up as the federal government continues to ignore its duty to provide clear guidance to protect drinking water quality… Water quality is a national issue that requires consistent national standards, but New York can no longer afford to wait,” stated Governor Cuomo.

Members of the Drinking Water Quality Council include state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and his designee Deputy Commissioner Brad Hutton, as well as state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos with his designee Executive Deputy Commissioner Ken Lynch.

Four of the council’s members were recommended by New York State Senate and Assembly leaders, while the other four were designated by Governor Cuomo.

Read the full article here.


New Survey Seeks Insight Into Health Impacts of PFOA

The New York Department of Health announced this week that it will be launching a national health effects study of communities impacted by chemical substances such as PFOA, including Hoosick Falls.

Five states have signed up to support the DOH’s request to the Centers for Disease Control to launch the study, including Alaska, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Vermont.

The Department of Health has also launched an online survey as part of a project called Understanding PFOA, which focuses on current or past residents of Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh, or Bennington.

This questionnaire is apart from previous studies as it will examine all illnesses linked to PFOA, not just cancers.

Questions asked in the survey, responses to which will be kept confidential, include where and when they lived in that particular area, their occupations, and any health conditions they have been diagnosed with.

“Are there trends, health trends in their communities, among the residents who consumed contaminated water?” stated environmental leader Judith Enck.

More than 1,700 residents in the Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh area have already completed the survey.

October 1st is the last day given to complete the health questionnaire.

The survey can be found online here. For those without access to a computer, a paper version of the questionnaire can be obtained by calling the DOH at 518-402-7950.

Read the full story here.


EPA Adds Saint-Gobain Site to Federal Superfund Clean-Up List

Hoosick Falls EPAThe United States Environmental Protection Agency announced in a news release this week that it has added the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics site in the Village of Hoosick Falls to the Federal Superfund National Priorities List, which includes the nation’s most hazardous waste sites.

The agency’s decision will allow federal resources to be used to clean areas of Hoosick Falls that have been contaminated with PFOA and ensure that the health of village residents is protected.

The EPA’s designation will also allow the federal government to seek reimbursement from the companies that are responsible for the village’s contamination.

New York State Senator Charles Schumer stated, “I am glad that EPA has heeded our call to add this site to the Superfund list because it gives the EPA leverage to make the polluters pay and to set a protocol for investigation and clean-up.”

Since PFOA contamination was discovered in Hoosick Falls, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health, along with the EPA, have taken several steps to address the issue:

  • In January 2016, the NYSDEC added the Saint-Gobain site to New York State’s Superfund list and requested that the EPA include the site on EPA’s federal Superfund list.
  • In April and May 2016, the EPA installed monitoring wells to sample groundwater at and around the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics facility (McCaffrey Street facility) and sampled the Village water supply wells. The EPA also collected soil samples from the McCaffrey Street facility, Village ballfields and recreational areas.
  • In June 2016, the NYSDEC entered into a legal agreement with Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation and Honeywell International Inc. and initiated a study of the nature and extent of contamination at the site.
  • In September 2016, the EPA proposed adding the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics site to the federal Superfund list.

Faraci Lange attorneys, Stephen Schwarz and Hadley Matarazzo, are representing residents of Hoosick Falls in a lawsuit against Saint-Gobain and Honeywell International for the PFOA contamination their manufacturing plants caused.

“To the extent that it makes more resources available to the community to address the problem, we’re happy to see that happen, Hadley stated to the New York Law Journal.


High PFOA Test Results Shock Hoosick Falls Residents

Hoosick Falls PFOA Water ContaminationGroundwater sampling from the Saint Gobain Performance Plastics manufacturing plant on McCaffery Street recorded PFOA levels at 130,000 parts per trillion. This is seven times higher than what was reported three years ago.

Saint Gobain’s Liberty Street site and Honeywell International’s John Street sites were also tested and both were found to be sources of contamination, according to Department of Environmental Conservation officials.

DEC Commissioner, Basil Seggos, states that the discrepancy in test results are due to having a limited number of samplings available in previous reports.

The test samplings included groundwater, soil and sediment, and others. Further investigation will determine the extent of the contamination, what elements are impacted and how widespread the contamination truly is.

Over 100 Village residents were present at the Hoosick Falls Center School to hear the results of the PFOA testing and learn what the next steps would be.

New York State officials, as well as Saint Gobain and Honeywell International representatives, spoke to residents and invited them to ask questions.

State officials also revealed additional sites that will be investigated further as possible sources of contamination, including the Hoosick Falls Landfill, the former Oak-Mitsui on First Street and Allied-Signal Laminate Systems on Mechanic Street.

An initial alternative water supply evaluation is expected to be completed by the fall. Residents will be given the opportunity to  review and comment on the proposed plan.

Read the full story here.


Community Meeting Addresses Questions About State Cancer Study

A community meeting was held in Hoosick Falls last week to address questions regarding the New York State Department of Health cancer study that was recently released.

The study, which investigates the effect of PFOA exposure on cancer rates in the Village of Hoosick Falls, was criticized by many for its narrow scope. Shortly after its release, residents gathered at the Hoosick Falls Armory for answers.

“Nobody is being held accountable. Nobody has even apologized for dumping toxins in the water,” said Barbara Burch, who previously lived in Hoosick Falls with her family but now resides in Petersburg.

Burch and her family have been consuming water contaminated with PFOA for over 20 years, after which her husband died from cancer.

“…nobody contacted me about his results or what happened to him,” stated Burch, feeling frustrated that her husband’s results were left out from the study.

Mayor Rob Allen was also present at the meeting and wanted the community to know that the Department of Health would be accessible to answer any questions.

“We spent a lot of time explaining what our study didn’t do…Our study does not dismiss or diminish the very valid concerns that residents have,” said Department of Health Deputy Commissioner for Public Health Brad Hutton.

More meetings will be scheduled in Hoosick Falls by the Department of Health for anyone who still has questions.

Read the full article here.


State Report Showing No Elevations of Cancer in Hoosick Falls Criticized for Narrow Scope

The New York State Department of Health recently released a Cancer Incidence Investigation report that found no significant elevations of cancer for any of the cancer types associated with exposure to PFOA.

The Department of Health studied data from New York State’s Cancer Registry between the dates of January 1995 through December 2014 to analyze cancers diagnosed among residents of Hoosick Falls.

The investigation reported lower rates of certain types of cancer that have been linked to long-term PFOA exposure, including kidney, thyroid and testicular cancers.

A significantly elevated rate of lung cancer, which has not been linked to PFOA exposure, was however reported. There were 91 cases of lung cancer found during the study period – much higher than the expected rate of 65 cases for a population of this size.

Critics found the investigation to be flawed as it did not take into account the Hoosick Falls residents who were diagnosed with cancer after moving away from the village.

The report also fails to indicate whether cancer rates were specifically reviewed among individuals whose blood contained elevated levels of PFOA.

“The purpose of the investigation was to determine whether village residents who consumed contaminated water had increased rates of cancer relative to the rest of the state,” stated deputy commissioner for public health Brad Hutton.

Residents who live in the town of Hoosick surrounding the village were also not included in the study. The Department of Health stated that it limited its investigation to village residents since their level of exposure to PFOA was consistent.

Additionally, the study was limited to cancer and ignored other health conditions that have been linked to high exposure of PFOA, such as preeclampsia, colitis, thyroid disease, high cholesterol and respiratory problems.

Read the DOH Cancer Report Summary for more information.

The full article can be viewed here.


Hoosick Falls Tables Vote on $1.04M Settlement Offer

Last week, the Hoosick Falls Village Board postponed its vote on the proposed settlement of $1.04 million offered by Saint-Gobain and Honeywell over the PFOA contamination of the village’s water supply.

Village officials approved the motion to table with a vote of 6-1, with Mayor David Borge opposing it due to his argument that the town is facing “real financial issues” without the settlement money.

After the vote, Mayor Borge stated that, “Someone is going to give us a check for $1 million, that is not going away…There are 1,900 people in this community that pay taxes. They were not all here tonight…We have a responsibility to look out for everyone in the village, both present and in the future, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Although the settlement would cover Hoosick Falls’ expenses relating to the contamination, it would prevent the village from bringing any future claims against Saint-Gobain and Honeywell.

Judith Enck, a Hoosick Falls community member and former administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, opposed the settlement offer stating, “This is a really good deal for St. Gobain and a really good deal for Honeywell, but this not the quality document you should be signing on behalf of the residents of Hoosick Falls.”

Read the full story here.


Honeywell Conducting Investigation into New Pollution in Hoosick Falls

LUCAS WILLARD / WAMC

In a meeting held this week, Honeywell representatives informed residents that there may be another form of pollutant leaking into their drinking water, apart from PFOA chemicals they are already exposed to.

Under a state consent order, Honeywell is conducting an investigation into the detection of chemicals at the site of the company’s former building in Hoosick Falls.

The type of pollutant in question is called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Prior to this investigation, chemicals known as TCE and 111-TCA were found at the John Street Honeywell location.

Honeywell is now asking permission from Hoosick Falls residents to test their homes for VOCs, as directed by the consent order with the New York State Department of Health and Environmental Conservation.

39 properties surrounding the area of Honeywell’s former facility will be investigated, according to the company’s Global Remediation Director, John Morris.

At the meeting held this week, Morris explained to town residents that VOCs enter homes through vapors released from contaminated groundwater. Basements and living rooms will be tested in the specified homes.

TCE is a known carcinogen, according to the Department of Health. It can affect the central nervous system, liver, kidneys, reproductive and immune systems, and may also cause birth defects.

Read more here.