News Feature | April 11, 2019

CDC To Study PFAS Health Effects; Cancer Not Included

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

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Communities around the country had been unknowingly ingesting per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) for years as the compounds leaked into drinking water sources and evaded treatment. While it’s almost certain that consumers have suffered adverse health effects as a result, a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will uncover more details — but will apparently overlook one major consumer concern.

“The [CFC] has announced its plans for a highly anticipated health study on [PFAS], which are a family of toxic chemicals being found in drinking water throughout the United States,” The Intelligencer reported. “But according to a draft planning document released by the agency, the study will not assess whether the chemicals can cause cancer, a primary concern of impacted communities.”

In early April, the CDC issued an announcement that it would team with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to solicit research applications for the multi-site study on human health effects of PFAS exposure.

“ATSDR expects to establish cooperative agreements with up to six recipients, with awards ranging from $500,000 to $3 million per recipient,” according to the release. “To examine the association between PFAS and health outcomes, the study researchers will work to recruit at least 2,000 children (ages 4-17) and 6,000 adults (ages 18 and older) from communities who have been exposed to PFAS-contaminated drinking water.”

But while the release outlines at least seven adverse health effects it will examine — including kidney disease, liver function, and immune response — it does not explicitly mention that it will study the link between PFAS exposure and cancer, a major concern for many consumers.

“Why CDC would not want to further establish the risk of cancer from exposure to PFAS is baffling and makes the design of the study somewhat suspicious,” Tracy Carluccio, the deputy director of environmental group Delaware Riverkeeper Network, told The Intelligencer. “CDC shouldn’t design a study that will make cancer the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge.”

For its part, the CDC did acknowledge the omission, writing in a draft framework document that the scope of the funding and the estimated sample size for the study are too small to sufficiently evaluate cancer health outcomes.

“The multi-site health study will ask questions regarding cancer, but due to the sample size it will not be able to effectively look at the relationship between PFAS exposure and cancer as part of this study,” the CDC press office said, per The Intelligencer.

To read more about how water systems handle PFAS, visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Contaminant Removal Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Biotechnology," Idaho National Laboratory © 2008, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/