The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will conduct a five-year study into the long-term health effects of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) exposure in humans. The federal research funding for the study was announced earlier this month – a year and a half following the discovery of PFOS contamination of the City of Newburgh drinking water supply.
The funding comes by way of the Investing in Testing Act, which was part of the National Defense Authorization Act signed into law last Tuesday. “We need to have safe drinking water,” Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney said last week. “There is no reason we should not. It starts with good research and testing.”
Maloney waged more than a year-long campaign to have funding devoted to study the human-health effects from exposure to PFOS and PFOA, used up until recently in fire-foam concentrate used by fire fighters and at military installations.
PFOS was found at alarming levels at the Stewart Air National Guard Base last year. State testing revealed the chemical traveled from the air base and into local waterways, eventually making its way into Washington Lake, the city’s main drinking water reservoir. PFOS was found at the lake ranging in levels of 140 to 170 parts per trillion. The EPA lowered its lifetime health advisory level for PFOS and PFOA from 200 to 70 parts per trillion in August, 2016.
A state-sponsored, region-wide blood testing program has so far shown City of Newburgh residents to have four times the national average level of PFOS in their blood streams. However, due to limited studies, overall data is lacking on the effects of PFOS and other perfluorinated chemicals in humans.
When residents asked what their test results meant in terms of their health, they received few answers. “It was very hard for us to tell people whether they would have any long-term health effects as a result of their exposure to PFOA and PFOS,” Maloney said. “There is no reason to believe that anybody will have any long-term health effects. But we don’t want to happy talk it. We want to know what the best health science would say.”
According to the New York State Department of Health, high levels of exposure to perfluorinated chemicals have been linked to problems in fetal development, liver damage, high cholesterol, testicular and liver cancer.
“On a national level, we need to understand what is in our drinking water” Maloney said, noting some communities have had to find out the “hard way” what was in their water. “There are hundreds of communities dealing with these compounds in their water supplies,” he said, that are also located near military bases that have contaminated local water systems.
“I want to stress that the water is safe to drink in Newburgh,” he added, since the city switched over to using Catskill Aqueduct water last year.
Work is currently wrapping up at the City of Newburgh water treatment plant on the installation of a mammoth granular activated carbon filtration system, designed to remove PFOS, PFOA and other chemicals from drinking water.
Maloney is working on a separate piece of legislation to have the EPA require testing for unregulated contaminants, such as PFOS, in drinking-water systems in communities with less than 10,000 people. “EPA tests water supplies for communities over 10,000 residents,” the congressman said. “Because of that, we found out we had a problem in Newburgh.”
By SHANTAL RILEY