Residents of PFOA zones asked to complete survey

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BENNINGTON — Residents of PFOA contamination zones in Bennington and Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh in New York are being asked to complete a survey concerning medical issues that could be linked to exposure to the industrial chemical.

The initiative, which was announced Tuesday during a press conference in Albany, N.Y., is supported by the Understanding PFOA project at Bennington College and was developed by Zeke Bernstein and David Bond of the college; environmental engineer Robert Chinery, physician Dr. Howard Freed, and former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith Enck.

Bond said the effort is not a formal medical study but seeks to address the urgent questions he has heard from numerous residents of both states exposed to perfluorooctanoic acid — primarily through contaminated drinking water.

"This has been a toxic uncertainty introduced into their lives," he said, adding that the lack of medical data specific to this region has proven extremely frustrating for those in contamination zones around factories that emitted PFOA in the three communities.

"I have heard these same questions over and over again," Bond said.

Enck said the questionnaire is meant to document resident health concerns and medical issues and learn if there are trends among the populations in the contamination zones.

The organizers also want "to encourage biomonitoring," she said, including follow-up blood tests for PFOA levels and monitoring over time for the diseases and conditions most associated with PFOA exposure.

Enck said there are an estimated 15,764 residents in the PFOA contamination zone in the Bennington area, 3,400 residents in the Hoosick Falls zone, and 1,525 in Petersburgh.

The voluntary survey seeks input from former residents as well, and efforts will be made to contact those persons using social media, school alumni groups and similar methods. The general results of the questionnaire will be released in a subsequent report but no personal information or names will be released.

The questionnaire can be found online at https://bennington.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_5hjQyad1za9AFPD.

It also will be made available in paper form in the communities. Bond said use of the online form will be encouraged.

There is an Oct. 1 deadline for those wishing to participate.

It is hoped the information gathered will be "a supplement" to any future PFOA-related medical studies, Enck said.

For instance, she said, it is possible a trend pertaining to diseases associated with PFOA exposure might be indicated in the responses.

"To be honest, I hope we do not find a trend," she said.

Freed, who spoke during the news conference Tuesday, said the 10-question survey refers to specific diseases or conditions associated with PFOA exposure through a decade-long study of more than 65,000 Ohio Valley area residents as part of a class-action lawsuit against DuPont, which manufactured Teflon. PFOA was an ingredient used in the production of Teflon.

Focusing on those six diseases or conditions "is a conservative approach" that does not include other diseases residents might be concerned about, Enck said, but it could point to trends in those diseases determined through a "gold standard" study to be associated with PFOA exposure.

Locally, current or former factories in Bennington, Petersburgh and Hoosick Falls are believed to be the sources of PFOA in drinking water well supplies.

In the survey, participants are asked whether they have had any of the six diseases associated with PFOA exposure in the Ohio Valley study — kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, pregnancy induced hypertension, or high cholesterol.

And they are asked about deceased family members or those no longer living in the area who may have had those medical conditions.

Participants also are asked how long they have lived in the affected areas, whether any family member worked at a business that was a suspected source of PFOA, whether they had a public or private well source of drinking water, and what level of PFOA was detected in their water.

Bond said that anyone with questions about filling out the questionnaire should contact him at 802-440-4324 or at UnderstandingPFOA@bennington.edu.

He is associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington College, which is supporting the Understanding PFOA Project.

The ongoing project has received two National Science Foundation grants to bring the analytical resources of the science classroom into conversation with community concerns about PFOA, involving government officials, residents, faculty and students at Bennington and from other schools.

The project also has hosted public meetings to facilitate dialogue between residents and Vermont state officials, and CAPA and Environmental Studies at Bennington are sponsoring a lecture series on PFOA.

Information on the Ohio Valley medical study can be viewed at http://www.c8sciencepanel.org

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.


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