Residents of Washington County learned last Tuesday the amount and type of perfluorochemicals (PFCs) present in 200 people from Oakdale who participated in a study. Researchers said the data show residents’ PFC levels relate to their age, how long they have lived in their home and whether they currently or previously worked for 3M.
Staff from the Minnesota Department of Health presented the results of the study June 21 at Skyview Middle School in Oakdale. Blood samples had been taken from people who use Oakdale municipal water and private wells with water that contains PFCs.
The study confirmed that residents in the east metro are exposed to PFCs. Three types of the chemical were found at levels “slightly higher” than the national average, according to the MDH.
One source of the PFCs in groundwater and wells was their disposal in a number of landfills in the east metro area by the 3M Company. 3M no longer manufactures PFCs, but did at its Cottage Grove facility from the late 1940s until 2002. The family of manufactured chemicals have been used for decades to make products that resist heat, oil or grease, such as non-stick cookware or stain resistant carpets.
Some wells in Lake Elmo have been sealed off and the city of Oakdale, in collaboration with 3M, installed a carbon treatment facility for its contaminated municipal wells.
One-hundred people who use the Oakdale municipal water and 100 Lake Elmo or Cottage Grove residents with private wells that contain PFCs were the target of the study, said Jean Johnson, MDH program director for Environmental Health Tracking and Biomonitoring.
Researchers offered the testing to adults over the age of 20 who have lived in their home since before Jan. 1, 2005.
In the end, 98 people from each sample area completed all the testing, said Adrienne Kari, MDH program coordinator for the study.
The average age of the participants was 53 and the average length they have lived in their home ranged from 18 to 20 years in the three communities, Kari said.
“(We) wanted to have people exposed to chemicals for longer periods of time,” Johnson said.
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), and Perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS) were the three chemicals found in Washington County residents.
“PFOA, PFOS and PFHxS are found in the blood in greater than 98 percent of U.S. population older than 12 years of age,” Johnson said during the meeting.
Chemicals found in the water are measured in parts per billion (ppb). The levels found in the participants’ blood were interpreted in the same units, Johnson said.
PFOA and PFOS are chemicals that will stay in the human body for a number of years.
The average level of PFOA found in the Washington County sample was 15.4 ppb.
Participants with a private well had an average of 13.6 ppb of PFOA, while the level for municipal supply users was 17.3 ppb, according to the MDH.
The average of PFOS found in the Washington County residents was 35.9 ppb. Private well users had an average of 32.9 ppb and municipal supply users came in at 39.3 ppb, according to the MDH.
The third chemical, PFHxS, had the lowest average across the Washington County participants, 8.4 ppb.
Private well and municipal supply users came in with similar averages, 8.3 ppb and 8.6 ppb, respectively.
Age and the length of residence were directly correlated with higher levels of each of the three chemicals, Kari said.
Further 3M links
In the Washington County study group, 30 people said they were current or former employees of 3M, Kari said.
Those people had higher levels of PFHxS, but not the other two chemicals, Johnson said.
“Biomonitoring is a good way to measure exposure to a chemical because it tells us the amount of the chemical that actually got into people from all sources,” Johnson said.
Looming health concerns
When the study was announced at public meetings last year, residents voiced concerns about health effects and it was much of the same when they had the floor last week.
But the legislation that funded the state health department study did not include the means to determine the health effects of PFCs, Johnson said.
And, there is very little information about any hazards of PFCs or health effects they may cause.
Studies have shown PFCs may affect animals’ health, such as the function of the liver, thyroid and pancreas, if the chemical exposure is at high doses, according to the MDH.
“In humans, research has not conclusively shown that PFCs are related to specific diseases or health effects,” according to the MDH.
One man’s experience
Lake Elmo resident David Moore was randomly selected for the study, and agreed to participate. Those who did were given the option to see their test results and advised to consult a physician.
The level of PFOS in Moore’s blood tested at 449 ppb, he said at the Skyview meeting. That is near the top of the range included in the study. PFOA levels for Moore were at 157 ppb, the second to highest level found, he said.
Moore has lived in his home in Lake Elmo, close to the border with Oakdale on the west side of the city, for 14 years, he said.
After his wife passed away 14 months ago from cancer and Moore found the results of PFCs levels in his blood, he said his fears about how the chemicals affect health were justified.
“The oncologists were sure by the rate the chemicals passed through the body that the cancer was caused by the chemicals,” Moore said.
“I don’t believe they’re telling people everything they know about it,” he said. “3M is going to stand firm that the chemical doesn’t have a health effect on people.”
A mid-sized crowd of residents as well as District 56A Rep. Julie Bunn of Lake Elmo and District 55B Rep. Nora Slawik of Maplewood, were at the meeting to hear residents’ concerns.
Johnson said the health department shares the residents’ concerns.
“We understand the frustration that we don’t have all the answers, particularly to the health questions,” Johnson said. “It’s very understandable, and we share their frustration.”
A 2007 law that created the Environmental Health Tracking and Biomonitoring Program funded the study, according to the MDH,.