CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than three years after their advice was requested, federal health officials have recommended that West Virginia warn residents of the Parkersburg area not to use C8-contaminated water to mix baby formula.
The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry also urged state officials to advise certain residents – pregnant women, women of child-bearing age, children, and the elderly – near the DuPont Co. Washington Works plant to reduce C8-polluted water consumption to “levels that are as low as reasonably achievable.”
But the ATSDR, in its official response last month, wrongly stated that all public water systems in the Mid-Ohio Valley are filtered to remove C8. Many such systems are using new treatment equipment, but the city of Parkersburg’s water plant is not.
The West Virginia Bureau of Public Health has still not taken any action to spread the word in the Parkersburg area about the ATSDR recommendations, which were provided to state officials in early February.
“This is something we need to work on,” said Barbara Taylor, chief of the Office of Environmental Health Services within the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Public Health.
DuPont has used C8 since the 1950s at Washington Works, as a processing agent to make Teflon and other nonstick, oil-resistant paper packaging and stain-resistant products.
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 water, eating tainted food, or through food packaging and stain-proofing agents on furniture and carpets. Evidence is mounting about the chemical’s dangerous effects, but regulators have yet to set a binding federal limit for emissions or human exposure.
In January 2006, West Virginia health officials asked ATSDR for advice on health issues related to C8 contamination in the Mid-Ohio Valley area.
Apparently, ATSDR provided some unwritten recommendations that the state should encourage people in the area to buy pre-mixed baby formula. But the state never did a large-scale public notice of that advice.
At about the same time, officials from the Ohio Department of Health prepared a fact sheet and an advisory for doctors that recommended not using local public water for baby formula.
In fact, a similar advisory was prepared with West Virginia DHHR letterhead on it. But that advisory was never issued.
“[Ohio] did public information we didn’t do,” Taylor said last week. “We had actually drafted a similar advisory. I really don’t recall why it didn’t go out.”
Last month, ATSDR officials finally responded in writing to the DHHR’s 2006 request for advice.
Lora Werner, a senior regional ATSDR representative, said that the science around C8 is complicated and evolving, so coming up with sound guidance takes a long time.
“It has been a long process and it’s still an ongoing process,” Werner said.
Last week, Taylor responded to the ATSDR recommendation, with a two-page letter saying DHHR is still working on public information materials on the issue.
“Potential health risks associated with environmental exposure to [C8] certainly are not yet fully understood, particularly as it relates to potentially sensitive populations,” Taylor wrote.
Taylor said her agency is working with ATSDR “to develop materials to share with residents to give them information on what’s known to date as well as practical advice for reducing environmental exposure to PFOA in potentially sensitive populations, where such action on the individual level is feasible.”
She also said DHHR plans “to expand our Web site to include more information about PFOA as well as a link to information available from other sources.”