Federal Panel Issues Stronger Warning About Health Dangers Of PFOA

Jul 22, 2016

A scientific panel has supported a federal report that upgrades the health effects of the chemical PFOA.

The report was issued in June by the National Toxicology Program, and draws a strong link between PFOA and PFOS and their effects on immune functions in humans. 

The National Toxicology Program is run by the Department of Health and Human Services. The program looked at a range of human and animal studies that show that PFOA and PFOS are hazardous to the immune system.

Vermont State Toxicologist Sarah Vose says the panel of scientists met this month to go through the data, and they supported the report's findings that the chemicals likely impact human health.

"This report really confirms that the study methods and conclusions were valid," Vose says. "There's enough evidence to indicate that there is a presumed hazard to the immune system from PFOA and PFOS."

In one of its strongest wordings to date, the federal department found that PFOA and PFOS are "presumed" to alter immune functions in humans.

The conclusion is one step above saying it is a "suspected" human hazard.

If additional tests support the science, then PFOA and PFOS could be identified as a "known" health hazard.

PFOA and PFOS are turning up in water supplies across the country, and in Vermont, PFOA was first discovered in North Bennington in February.

It was most recently found in a ground water monitoring well in Shaftsbury.

"There's enough evidence to indicate that there is a presumed hazard to the immune system from PFOA and PFOS." - Sarah Vose, state toxicologist

"This report really supports the level of concern that we've seen in Vermont and in some other states," says Vose.

The state began distributing bottled water to people who live within a quarter mile of the closed Shaftsbury Landfill, and the Department of Environmental Conservation will test private wells in the area for the chemical.

The municipal water supply in Shatsbury has been tested and is safe to drink, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Vose cautions that while the panel review strengthens the state's argument that water with PFOA or PFOS above 20 parts per trillion should not be consumed, it does not mean that anyone who has the chemicals in their blood will suffer from autoimmune disease.

"The message is not that anyone with PFOA in their body will get the flu this year. It is possible they will update this in a few years if additional data become available."

The Environmental Protection Agency recently lowered its advisory level from 400 parts per trillion to 70 parts per trillion.

Vose says there are still a lot of questions about how chemicals react with the body.

"Right now the mechanism is unknown how PFOA and PFOS work to suppress or alter the immune system, but from a public health perspective, any changes that are caused by a chemical in the body are concerning," Vose says. "The message is not that anyone with PFOA in their body will get the flu this year. It is possible  they will update this in a few years if additional data become available."