July 27, 2005


CONTACT:
Rebecca Harmon
(215) 662-2560
rebecca.harmon@uphs.upenn.edu

 

Penn Study Finds Significantly Elevated C8 Levels Among Studied Population Group
in Southeastern Ohio

Water Is Identified as the Major Source of Contamination

(Philadelphia, PA) -- In the nation’s first government-sponsored epidemiological study of C8 levels in the blood of residents of a four-community region of southeastern Ohio, researcher Edward A. Emmett, MD, Professor of Occupational & Environmental Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, found C8 levels that were more than 60 to 80 times higher than those typically found in the general population. The research team has concluded that water is the major source of contamination.

The study – which is independent of any corporation, law firm, or class-action suit – is funded through a four-year Environmental Justice Partnership grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences; and is specifically designed as a collaborative initiative among environmental health scientists at Penn’s School of Medicine, the Decatur Community Association in Cutler, Ohio, and a local physician affiliated with Grand Central Family Medicine in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

The objectives of the study were threefold: to measure the levels of C8 in the blood of a sample of the population exposed to C8; to determine whether the major route of exposure is from air, water, or a combination; and to determine if the levels of C8 are associated with adverse changes in biomarkers of health effects. (The researchers are continuing their analysis of the data related to the third objective – and expect to present those findings at a community meeting on August 15, 2005, in Vincent, Ohio.)

C8 is the commonly used name for perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA – a chemical used in the production of fluoropolymers. Fluoropolymers are used to make non-stick surfaces for cookware and other uses; as well as to make clothing, carpeting, and other products resistant to grease, water, and stains. According to manufacturers, C8 is not present in the final products. C8 is very persistent in the environment and is not biodegradable. Once inside the human body, it is very slowly eliminated.

The potential impacts of C8 on public health are still under investigation. Exposure to high concentrations of C8 over long durations has been shown to cause tumors in some test animals. It is not certain that C8 would cause the same effects in humans. Epidemiologic studies of occupational groups have not found consistent associations between C8 and health effects, but concerns about toxicity to human populations persist. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the source of the C8 found in the general population is unknown at this time.

For the Penn study, a random sample of 326 residents was selected from 160 households in four communities in southeastern Ohio: Belpre; Little Hocking; Cutler; and Vincent. All four communities are situated across the Ohio River from a facility where C8 is used in the manufacture of Teflon®. C8 is known to have contaminated the residential water supplies of communities near the plant. Parts of Little Hocking and Belpre are immediately across the river from the plant and could be subject to air pollution from the plant. Cutler & Vincent are some miles from the plant and would not be expected to have exposure to air pollution from the plant. However, all four communities share the same water supply.

The average level of C8 in the general population is approximately 5 ppb (parts per billion). The study showed that, when analyzed by specific geographical area, the median (or middle) C8 levels for participants with mailing addresses in Belpre was 298ppb; Little Hocking, 327ppb; Cutler, 328ppb; and Vincent, 369ppb. As part of the researchers’ commitment to the community participants, letters have been mailed already to study participants to inform them privately of their individual blood-levels of C8. “Our results show that the median levels recorded in participants in the study were from 60 to 80 times higher than general-population levels,” said Emmett. “In addition, increased levels were found in both sexes and all age groups, including children and the elderly.”

“The C8 levels were high in all four communities, with no significant contribution from air pollution, ” noted Emmett. “As a result, we have concluded that the major source of the C8 in the residents’ bodies is the contaminated water supply.” Residents who reported occupational exposure from working with C8 to a significant extent were excluded from the study’s analysis (i.e., those employed by the nearby chemical plant for greater than one year and within the past 10 years). However, even with the elimination of this population subgroup, the researchers observed C8 levels in some study participants that approached – and, in some cases, overlapped – C8 levels reported in some earlier studies of individuals who work directly with C8.

Dr. Emmett said that appropriate health, environment, and water authorities for the affected study population have been notified of the preliminary results of the Penn study. Further analysis of the results continue; and information beyond these preliminary findings will be released at an upcoming Community Meeting, scheduled for 7:00 PM, on August 15, 2005, at the Warren High School Auditorium, 130 Warrior Drive, in Vincent, Ohio.

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PENN Medicine is a $2.7 billion enterprise dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and high-quality patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Penn’s School of Medicine is ranked #2 in the nation for receipt of NIH research funds; and ranked #4 in the nation in U.S. News & World Report’s most recent ranking of top research-oriented medical schools. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic medicine.

Penn Health System is comprised of: its flagship hospital, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, consistently rated one of the nation’s “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation's first hospital; Presbyterian Medical Center; a faculty practice plan; a primary-care provider network; two multispecialty satellite facilities; and home health care and hospice.


This release is available online at http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/news/News_Releases/jul05/c8.htm