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Federal Study On Health Effects Of PFAS, Delayed By EPA, Released

Blood tests. A new federal report looks at the long-term health effects of PFOA.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
VPR file
Blood tests. A new federal report looks at the long-term health effects of PFOA.

A new federal report on the health effects of perfluorinated compounds, including PFOA, could force Vermont to lower its safe drinking water standard.

The report weighs in at more-than-850-pages and looks at the long-term health effects of 14 different chemicals.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released it Wednesday.

In May, Politico reported the Trump administration was allegedly withholding the report because federal officials said it would cause “a public relations nightmare.”

Vermont state toxicologist Sarah Vose says that while the report is a draft at this point, it does include new information the state didn’t have when it set its safe drinking water standard at 20 parts per trillion.

“We’re going to read it to understand what it may mean for the drinking water health advisory,” Vose said Wednesday. “And we’re going to try  to understand what it tells us about the PFAS family as a whole.”

According to Politico, the Trump Administration allegedly suppressed the report since January 2018.

Rep. Peter Welch was one of a group of 13 bipartisan lawmakers who demanded in a letter sent last month that the informationbereleased.

“We’ve got to have an EPA that takes seriously its obligation to protect the health and safety of the American people,” said Welch. “They should be the first to rush out a report after it’s been fully done to get that information to people who need it.”

More than 200 private drinking wells in Bennington are contaminated with PFOA and the state is investigating a second source of contamination in Clarendon, Vermont, outside of Rutland.

Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Peter Walke says the state has been anticipating the report as it continues to work to protect the people who have contaminated water.

“This report speaks to our evolving understanding of PFAS,” he said. “We started in 2016 with a look at PFOA in the Bennington area and our understanding continues to evolve. We learn more and more all the time about this family of chemicals so we can figure out how to better protect Vermonters in the future.”

Alexis Temkin of the Environmental Working Group says the study represents the most comprehensive report to date on the human health effects of chemicals like PFOA

And she says individuals and public drinking water utilities need to look closer at PFAS contamination now that it's clear there’s an effect on human health.

“There’s some indication that the PFAS contamination is more prevalent than people originally thought,” she said. “And there’s going to be some need for other regulatory actions to be taken to really remove these chemicals and prevent further contamination.”  

The study addresses many of the assumed health risks associated with the chemicals such as thyroid disease, high cholesterol and fertility issues and concludes that PFOA likely causes cancer.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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