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State Health Officials Ask Feds To Study PFAS Chemicals

According to the New Yrok Times, the virus was first discovered in Uganda’s Zika forest in 1947, but wasn’t common in the West until an outbreak was found in Brazil last May.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention

The New York State Health Department is asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to undertake a national study of health effects related to chemicals like PFOA and PFOS, which have been found in drinking water in several Northeast communities. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports it’s the second new effort to gather health information announced this week.

Health officials from New York, along with Alaska, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Vermont, recently wrote to the CDC asking the federal agency to launch a national study into PFAS chemicals. All the states have had communities affected by the group of chemicals that include PFOA and PFOS.

In New York, elevated PFOA and PFOS concentrations have been found in water supplies in Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh, and Newburgh, leading to multi-million dollar investigations still under way.

The chemicals are used in producing insulating and non-stick materials like Teflon, as well as firefighting foam.

Department of Health spokesman Gary Holmes said the CDC has already conducted a study of PFAS chemicals in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

But Holmes points out that’s just one community.

“And one of the things that they point out is one of the challenges is doing these types of studies with small populations. We took that as our cue to say, ‘Well, why not get other communities involved?’”

The request from the five states came around the same time that a coalition of advocates from New York and Vermont launched an independent health survey of past and present residents of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, New York and Bennington, Vermont.

David Bond, of Bennington College, recently told WAMC that despite the ongoing efforts by state agencies, there are a lot of unknowns as to how PFAS chemicals behave in the environment and affect public health.

“Moving forward, a lot of great work is being done,” said Bond. “But a number of residents in both Vermont and New York still have difficult questions.”

Holmes said the data collected by the independent survey would be useful.

“DOH is certainly supportive of that project and that initiative because we think that it’s very complementary to some of the same approach that we’ve already taken,” said Holmes.

New York has tested more than 6,000 individuals’ blood for PFAS chemicals. More than 1,700 New Yorkers have answered community health surveys.

Hoosick Falls Mayor Rob Allen says the news from both the independent group and the state’s request for additional study by the federal government has been received positively by the constituents he’s spoken to.

“And my opinion on any of this is that we will welcome anything that will enhance our knowledge of the situation,” said Allen.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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