CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A last-minute health advisory issued by the Bush administration for water contaminated with the toxic chemical C8 may not be nearly stringent enough, according to a new scientific paper.
Researchers from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Rutgers University concluded that the federal government’s health advisory did not consider some adverse health effects that could occur at very low exposure levels.
The study, published Friday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, also backed up previous criticism that the federal government’s advisory does not take into account possible long-term exposure from drinking C8-contaminated water.
Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which issued the C8 advisory in mid-January, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the new scientific findings.
In its advisory, EPA recommended that people reduce consumption of water that contains more than 0.4 parts per billion of C8, which is also known as perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA.
Around the world, researchers are finding that people have C8 and other perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, in their blood at low levels. People can be exposed by drinking contaminated products, eating tainted food, or through food packaging and stain-proof agents on furniture or carpets.
Evidence is mounting about the chemicals’ dangerous effects, but regulators have yet to set a binding federal limit for emissions or human exposure.
In West Virginia, DuPont Co. used C8 for decades at its Washington Works plant south of Parkersburg to make Teflon and other nonstick and stain-resistant products.
In March, DuPont and EPA revised a settlement in which DuPont must provide replacement water supplies for anyone whose drinking water contains more than the EPA-recommended level of 0.4 parts per billion. EPA officials have said that figure is based on “short-term” exposure to C8 in water, but has not spelled out exactly what that means.
The new scientific paper focuses on New Jersey, where DuPont also has a manufacturing plant and where drinking water supplies have also been contaminated with C8.
Researchers concluded that a long-term exposure limit for C8, based on the health studies EPA reviewed, would be about 0.04 parts per billion — 10 times more stringent that EPA recommended. And that level — 0.04 parts per billion — is the guidance level set by New Jersey authorities for drinking water in their state.
But the new paper also noted that EPA did not examine several animal studies that showed adverse health effects at lower levels, including effects on the liver, metabolism and the uterus.
“Evaluation of these studies could result in a short-term health-based concentration” below 0.4 parts per billion, the study concluded.