PARKERSBURG - The three-member C8 Science Panel continues to work on its ongoing effort to determine whether there is a probable link between C8 and human disease.
C8 is the common name given to perfluorooctanoic acid, (sometimes called PFOA), a man-made chemical used in manufacturing products including non-stick cookware, protective finishes on carpets, and water-resistant clothing.
A class action lawsuit brought by the affected communities against the Washington Works DuPont plant resulted in a settlement agreement in Wood County Circuit Court. As part of that settlement, Brookmar Inc., an independent company, conducted a year-long survey (August 2005 - July 2006) called the C8 Health Project.
Dr. Kyle Steenland is one member of the three-member C8 Science Panel. The panel continues to conduct studies in its ongoing effort to determine whether there is a probable link between C8 and human disease.
The project gathered information through interviews and questionnaires and collected blood samples from about 70,000 people who lived, worked or attended school in the six affected water districts. Also as part of that settlement, a three-member panel of experts was appointed to determine if there is a probable link between C8 and disease.
Members of the C8 Science Panel are Dr. Tony Fletcher, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Dr. David Savitz, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and Dr. Kyle Steenland, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University.
This past year the panel instituted a quarterly newsletter.
"We decided to try a newsletter to improve communication and get news about our work to interested individuals. We announce new results, new publications and describe how and why we are doing the studies," Steenland said.
To sign up for the newsletter and see past issues, go to the panel's website at www.c8sciencepanel.org.
Steenland said the panel completed its planned interviews for community and worker follow-up studies this past December, then extended the study for workers beyond the planned December date to allow more time to locate a number of workers who may have left the area and were hard to find.
"The workers have a lower overall participation rate due to difficulties locating them, more of them have moved out of the area over time," Steenland said. "Additionally many workers have passed away and it has been a challenge to locate their family members to do the interview. We now have interviews for 81 percent of the community residents and 67 percent of the workers we were hoping to interview. We have interviewed about 32,000 community residents and 4,000 workers. We definitely consider this a success," he said, noting the participation rate was more than 90 percent.
"The interviews provide information on disease history, and will be key to determining whether C8 is linked to any disease. We are also seeking medical records to validate reported disease. We have asked all those interviewed, who have reported a serious disease, for permission to see their medical records. Medical providers have been very cooperative in providing us with records, but it takes a lot of time to gather them. We are trying to gather medical record information for about 20,000 people. We expect to have all the medical records by the end of the summer," Steenland said.
The panel is also linking study participants to Ohio and West Virginia cancer registries and National Death index to gather information on cancer and causes of death.
"In the end we will put all this information together to determine if those with more C8 exposure have had more disease," Steenland said.
Studies include those on reproductive outcomes (such as low birthweight, miscarriage), community and worker follow-up studies to study diseases such as cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, thyroid disease, lung disease, and other serious disease.
There are studies of cancer rates by geographical areas with different C8 exposure, and studies of markers to immune/liver/kidney function to see how they have changed after C8 was taken out of the water system by the filters installed a few years ago. The panel is also studying children to see if C8 may have harmed their neurological development.
Steenland said results of the studies will come out in stages this year and next.
"I think the first will be the reproductive studies, which should be finished this year. Most of our studies will compare disease rates in those with more exposure to those with less exposure. For that reason most of them depend on our estimate of exposure for people in the study. These estimates are based not only their measured blood levels of C8 in 2005 at the time they participated in the C8 Health Project, but also our estimates of previous blood levels in the past," he said.
"For many diseases, the total amount of exposure over time is more important than a single measurement of a recent exposure. So we are spending a lot of effort to figure out how much C8 was in the water over time, and link that to where people lived and when they lived there. For that reason we have been collecting additional residential history for some people during our interviews. Final estimates of people's past exposure to C8 should be completed this spring," Steenland said.
Steenland noted many people wonder why the panel could not simply take the medical history information and C8 blood measurement from the C8 Health Project (2005-2006) and determine whether C8 is linked to any disease.
"The problem is we do not have a detailed history of when disease occurred (from the C8 Health Project) and it is key for us to know whether C8 exposure came before the disease if we want to know whether C8 is linked to disease. Therefore, we have been collecting more disease history in our community and worker follow-up studies, including disease which occurred after 2005-2006," he said.
"We need to be able to estimate how much C8 people have been exposed to in the past. If someone had cancer in 1995, we need to know what their exposure before 1995 was. For that reason we have spent a lot of time estimating likely past exposure, using records from DuPont of how much C8 was put in the river and into the air over time, and estimating where the C8 went, and how much was likely to have been in different public water systems at different times," Steenland explained.
"This is a huge task, yet it is key to making a solid scientific decision about whether C8 is linked to disease. We have always said our work would take time, but it is worth it to get it right. We know the community is eager to get results, and we are working to get them as soon as we can," Steenland said.