VIENNA, W.Va. — A three-person science committee has found evidence that could connect the toxic chemical C8 to human birth defects and high blood pressure in pregnant women, according to the latest reports made public Thursday.
Babies whose mothers had high levels of C8 in their blood were 70 percent more likely to have birth defects, according to the study by the C8 Science Panel.
Woman with greater than average levels of C8 in their blood were 30 percent more likely to have preeclampsia, or high blood pressure during pregnancy, according to the panel’s analysis.
Members of the three-scientist panel downplayed both findings, calling them “weak relationships,” but also saying the results support the need for continuing to study C8’s health impacts.
“The numbers are what they are, and then there’s the question of what to make of them,” said David Savitz, a Science Panel member from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “There are a lot of reasons to be cautious about drawing those kinds of conclusions.”
But so far, in three rounds of reports released since last October, the Science Panel has each time found some evidence of adverse health effects: High cholesterol, increased uric acid that can cause hypertension, reduced immune system functions, and now, birth defects and preeclampsia.
The three-scientist panel is conducting one of two C8 reviews as part of a $107.6 million settlement of a lawsuit filed by residents who alleged DuPont’s Washington Works plant poisoned their water with C8.
In one effort, the C8 Health Project, residents gave blood and detailed medical histories to try to give researchers a huge database from which to consider C8’s impacts. WVU researchers are analyzing that data and have been making some preliminary findings public.
In the other, Savitz and two other experts — agreed to by DuPont and lawyers for the residents — are trying to determine if C8 is linked to adverse health effects. Their conclusion will be used to decide if DuPont must fund a medical monitoring program for residents who drank contaminated water.
During a news conference Thursday morning at a conference center outside Parkersburg, the Science Panel actually released to the media the results of three different studies. But one of those — concerning immune function — was filed last week with Wood Circuit Judge J.D. Beane<co >, and the Gazette published its results based on the court filing.
Science Panel member Tony Fletcher said the immune study found “strong statistical associations” between C8 levels and three of six immune system markers studied.
But as with some other panel efforts, the C8 levels and the immune markers were measured at the same time, so it’s unclear if the C8 exposure caused the immune marker changes, Fletcher said.
“We have to be careful in interpreting things, but it does suggest some relationship between C8 exposure and normal operation of the immune system,” Fletcher said.
Savitz said the Science Panel did not find a relationship between C8 exposure and miscarriages, pre-term birth or low-birth weight.
But, the panel’s report cautioned, “Because there is some inaccuracy in the reports on pregnancy, and the number of pregnancies that could be included in this stage of the analysis was limited, the Science Panel could not draw conclusions regarding whether either of these chemicals were associated with problems in pregnancy.”
The third Science Panel member, Kyle Steenland of Emory University, reported that water filter systems installed on some local treatment plants — but not on the city of Parkersburg’s plant — have reduced C8 in blood levels by an average of 26 percent.
Steenland said that, based on that, the half-life of C8 appears to be about 2.3 years, which is less than the 3.8 years reported in a study based on a small number of 3M Corp. workers.
If that figure is correct, 95 percent of the C8 in human blood would be cleared from the body in 10 years, Steenland said.