Researchers will be working with Hyannis residents as part of a new, federally-funded study to better understand how the chemicals known as PFAs interact with the human body. Silent Spring research scientist Laurel Schaider says some 100 million Americans are estimated to have PFAS in their tap water, but little is known about the potential health impacts. WCAI Morning Edition Host Kathryn Eident talked with Schaider about the study.
Eident Laurel, thanks so much for talking with us this morning.
Schaider Thanks, Kathryn.
Eident What are you hoping to accomplish overall with taking a look at this sample size?
Schaider The goal of our study is to evaluate people's exposures to PFAs from the water in Hyannis and also in Ayer, another town in Massachusetts, and to look for potential links with a range of health effects. And ours is just one of seven projects that are being coordinated as part of a larger study by the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry or ASDR, and that's part of the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Eident How big a health concern are PFAs at this point?
Schaider Scientists are really concerned about potential health effects related to PFAs exposures. We have evidence from both laboratory studies and from studies of communities that have been exposed to PFAs through water, or through diet, showing associations with a wide range of health effects, including certain types of cancer, effects on the thyroid, developmental and reproductive effects, elevated cholesterol and in children decreased vaccine responses.
This study will provide more conclusive evidence looking at these associations by including a broader range of communities and more people than we could assess by just looking at one community at a time.
Eident You're looking at a thousand adults and about 300 children; how will you collect the data from the people that become part of this study?
Schaider So, we'll be reaching out to people who live in Hyannis and Ayer. We'll be sending out recruitment letters. Our goal is to have kind of a random sampling of people in these two communities. And, for people who choose to participate in the study, they will be asked to come in and provide a sample of blood and urine They'll also fill out questionnaires about their health history and where they've lived over time. Things like how much water they drink from their tap and we'll also be collecting information from their medical records, too.
Eident You know if you will be able to speak to some of the folks that get these letters, what would you tell them to convince them that it's a good idea to come in for this study?
Schaider A lot of people who live in communities that have had contamination of their water want to know what their exposure levels are like. PFAs chemicals stay in our body for long periods of time. For some PFAs chemicals, they can stay in our bodies for years. So, even though the Hyannis water system has now taken steps to dramatically reduce the PFAs levels in the water, people who lived in Hyannis when the water levels were still high, might still be carrying around some of those PFAs chemicals in their bodies.
So, for one thing they'll have their own individual results about what their PFAs levels in their bodies are. And then by participating in the study, they'll be contributing more broadly to our knowledge about health effects related to PFAs exposures, and this can inform the establishment of drinking water standards that best protect people's health.
Eident Do you think it's something that people should consider, if they're worried listening to this and wondering if there's PFAs in their water, are there any preventative steps available?
Schaider I would say for people who live in an area served by a public water supply, they can learn about what their water levels are currently by contacting their public water supply. We also know there are many Cape residents who rely on private wells and these are typically not tested for PFAs. If people do want to take steps to remove PFAs from their drinking water we know that activated carbon systems, like a filter pitcher, or a solid carbon block filter that might go into your sink, remove certain key fast chemicals and then reverse osmosis systems are effective, too.
Eident That's Laurel Schaider of the Silent Spring Institute. Thank you so much for talking with us this morning and good luck.
Schaider Thank you Kathryn.