PFOA by the numbers: A widespread contamination and how it affects your health

HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The chemical PFOA has been found in the water in multiple Capital Region communities, and many people are wondering when does it start to affect their health.

Millions of Americans are drinking water tainted by PFOA. NEWS10 ABC reporter Rachel Yonkunas went through countless documents, traveled hundreds of miles, and spoke with experts on PFOA research on what the blood levels mean.

“You’re told not to drink your water. It happened right around the holidays. It was really difficult,” Michelle Baker, of Hoosick, said. “And then a couple months later you’ve got your toddler with a basket of crayons and a coloring book having their blood drawn to see if there’s anything wrong with them.”

Baker’s world flipped seven months ago. The day before Thanksgiving, the village of Hoosick Falls learned its water wasn’t safe to drink, and it had been contaminated for who knows how long.

“There are times that you want to sit and cry because you don’t know,” she said. “My daughter is born and raised on PFOA. This went in her baby bottle. What do you do? What answers are there?”

RELATED: PFOA crisis in the Capital Region

NEWS10 traveled 133 miles to get answers and tracked down an expert whose research on PFOA is used by all major health organizations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Dr. David Savitz is Vice President of Research for Brown University in Rhode Island. He’s also a member of the C8 Science Panel.

Dr. Savitz is tasked with scrutinizing PFOA as part of a settlement agreement with DuPont, a company in the mid-Atlantic, which emitted PFOA since the 1950s.

The C8 Science Panel wrapped its eight-year study in 2013. It determined high levels of PFOA increase a person’s risk of getting one of six diseases: diagnosed high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Dr. Savitz said the scale of contamination was shocking. It affected 69,000 people in the mid-Ohio Valley. Those effected all lived near DuPont’s plant in West Virginia.

pfoa by the numbers

“We realized early on that this was a situation worth of careful attention and research where it was entirely plausible that there could be a serious public health disaster,” he said.

NEWS10 went through hundreds of pages of documents from the EPA and found PFOA is detected in 94 public drinking water systems across 27 states.

Those states are Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.

The documents also state PFOA is affecting 6,560,087 Americans.

Digging deeper NEWS10 found 174,000 New Yorkers are currently drinking PFOA contaminated water. That number does not include the millions of private wells that may also be contaminated.

new york and pfoa

In addition, only 800 public wells serving less than 10,000 people were selected at random meaning the majority of villages and small towns weren’t tested – areas many manufacturing sites call home like Petersburgh and Hoosick Falls.

“There’s really no substitute for the blood levels,” Dr. Savitz said. “They tell you, absolutely with certainty, what they’re exposed to.”

Dr. Savitz said the average person has four parts per billion of PFOA in their blood. He said when levels start to exceed 84ppb, the risk of getting the six previously mentioned diseases gets much higher.

“Even in the face of a high degree of uncertainty about health effects, its plausible enough, it’s credible, it’s quite possible,” he said. “There are some adverse health effects and that may be enough to say we should get it out of the environment.”

In Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, many people are still waiting for their blood test results. Baker is keeping tabs of deadlines in a journal.

pfoa health problems

She started the journal in December 2015 when the state publicly addressed the environmental crisis, which was 15 months after officials already knew it had hit her small town.

“There’s been people that have had cancers,” she said. “There are people that are very sick in this town, and there are people who have died. It can keep you up at night.”

The New York State Department of Health initially said it would take two months for the blood test results to come back, which would have made the deadline last week.

Rachel spoke with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office Thursday afternoon. They said the NYS DOH has received all of the results that have been taken so far.

The results are being packaged and stamped and will be mailed out to homeowners Friday morning.

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