Credit: Marlon Ferrer/PixabayFile Photo
A long-delayed investigation into links between PFAS “forever chemicals” in drinking water and public health in the Gloucester County town of Paulsboro is set to begin in July, the lead official said Tuesday.
dr. Robert Laumbach, an associate professor at Rutgers University School of Public Health, said the study will seek residents who are willing to share their medical histories and undergo a blood test as part of a federal project to gather more information about the connections of the chemicals with diseases. Researchers are looking at whether the chemicals play a role in kidney and testicular cancer; reduced vaccine response in children; high cholesterol and increased risk of high blood pressure in pregnant women.
In 2013, a public well was temporarily shut down in Paulsboro after a high level of one PFAS substance was found there. Now the city is one of eight locations nationwide chosen for the study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry for experiencing PFAS contamination in drinking water.
Officials want to test 1,000 adults who lived in Paulsboro at any time from January 2005 to April 2014, and 300 children ages 6 to 17, who have parental permission to participate, and who lived in the city at any time until April 2014. Among adults, firefighters and factory workers may not qualify.
“It will take a lot of outreach to get people out, but we’re confident we can,” Laumbach said at a Rutgers webinar designed to build public support for the study. The project has been largely delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
Laumbach said 1,300 residents of Paulsboro previously came forward for blood tests in connection with a legal settlement and “we hope many of those people will come out again.”
Since 2016, the Paulsboro public water system has been using specialized filters to remove PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — from drinking water. Mike Reed, the city’s water/sewer inspector, said the filters have reduced the presence of PFNA (perfluorononanoic acid), a type of PFAS chemical, from 32 parts per trillion (ppt) when water enters the Paulsboro water treatment plant to a ” undetectable” level before being pumped out to be consumed by the public.
Reed said they also test for three types of PFAS chemicals during the filtration process to ensure public water does not exceed levels set by the Department of Environmental Protection as the upper limits for safe human consumption in drinking water.
The latest readings at the city’s main sewage treatment plant for those three chemicals for any treatment exceed New Jersey regulations. The city gets its supplies from groundwater, and it’s unclear where the contamination is coming from, Reed said.
PFAS chemicals now removed from water
Although Paulsboro’s public water now contains no harmful PFAS after filtering, residents likely have the chemicals in their blood from drinking water before it was filtered, or from a range of consumer products, including carpets, flame retardants, or food packaging that may still use the substances. .
“These compounds are so ubiquitous that if you take a sample in someone’s blood, you get these compounds,” said Dr. Keith Cooper, a Rutgers toxicologist who chairs the Drinking Water Quality Institute in New Jersey, a panel of scientists and water company executives advises the DEP. The recommendations on strict health standards for PFAS in drinking water have been passed by the DEP for the past seven years and have made New Jersey a national leader in regulating the chemicals.
The federal government does not set enforceable standards for PFAS in drinking water, but recently announced another round of testing and restarted a regulatory process that could eventually lead to national standards being set.
In Paulsboro, residents may also have been exposed through groundwater or soil because the chemicals don’t break down in the environment and so can persist for years after their use or production ends – helping to explain why they’re known as “forever chemicals” . .” Paulsboro’s PFAS problem is attributed to Solvay, a chemical company that previously used PFNA at its plant in nearby West Deptford and voluntarily stopped using it in 2010.
The Paulsboro study also aims to include participants in West Deptford, where about 50 private water sources contain high levels of PFAS, Laumbach said.
West Deptford also a concern
“West Deptford is an area where there is concern,” he said. “It is a community that surrounds the Solvay plant, which is believed to be the source of the PFNA in the Paulsboro drinking water, and there are some private wells that have had very high PFNA and other PFAS levels – higher than the public water in Paulsboro.”
Solvay is “believed” to be the source of Paulsboro’s PFAS contamination, Laumbach said. The company has been sued by the DEP, who accused it of releasing the chemicals into the environment. It is also named as a defendant in a recent series of lawsuits by dozens of South Jersey residents who say they suffer from cancer, birth defects and many other serious health problems from years of exposure to the chemicals.
In response to last November’s DEP case, Solvay said it had “rigorously” investigated and repaired PFNA near its plant, with full knowledge of the DEP and in compliance with all relevant laws and regulations.
Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the environmental group Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and a long-time advocate for strict health limits for PFAS chemicals in drinking water, welcomed the start of the study, which she says will be of utmost importance to people living for years. with polluted water.
‘People want to know’
“People want to know how PFAS exposure has affected them and their families, how much has been concentrated in their blood and how it may have affected their health,” she said. “The only way to know for sure if your blood has high PFAS levels is to get it tested and this health study will finally answer that question for people. This is a huge benefit for the community.”
After testing, the PFAS results will be reported to the participants, although there are no health guidelines for PFAS in blood and no treatment for it, Laumbach said.
The study, which is expected to take five years from preparation to dissemination of results, will compare blood tests to those taken previously in the community. That will help determine the half-life of PFNA in blood, which currently appears to be two to three years, he said.
Nationally, the tests are designed to improve scientific knowledge about links between PFAS and human disease, Laumbach said.
“Most authoritative sources agree that there is suggestive evidence, but considerable uncertainty, about a wide range of health effects of PFAS,” he said. “That was the main motivation.”