A study on PFOA-related cancer rates in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. that was released Tuesday may raise more questions than in answers, if it does even that.
According to the New York Department of Health, which looked at 20 years of cancer registry data, the rates of cancers associated with PFOA exposure aren't "statistically significantly higher than expected." That was true for all types of cancer, except lung cancer, which isn't linked to PFOA.
PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), a man-made chemical used when making products coated with Teflon, turned up in the village's water supply. Contamination was later found elsewhere in the region, including private wells in North Bennington. In Hoosick Falls, residents went four months without access to their normal source of drinking water until filters were installed at the water treatment plant. Filters have also been installed on homes and businesses.
So does this mean PFOA is nothing to worry about? No. A New York public health official did note that the study is limited in its scope and doesn't eliminate people's concerns.
The state looked at cases observed within the Hoosick Falls census tract between 1995 and 2014. It leaves out those who live in the Town of Hoosick and the surrounding areas, and people who were diagnosed after moving away from the village. And it only reviewed instances of cancer: Prolonged exposure to PFOA is linked to other problems such as high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease and pregnancy-induced hypertension.
The state plans to keep an eye on the cancer rates in Hoosick Falls in the coming years.
On Wednesday, Environmental Advocates of New York, which describes itself as "the leading environmental government watchdog in Albany," described the releasing of the study as a "major fail."
"Time and again we have watched as DOH watered down the seriousness of the PFOA contamination crisis," said Liz Moran, water and natural resources associated for Environmental Advocates of New York. "Now, this study states that cancer rates in Hoosick Falls are unchanged, since 1995, when the DOH knows that contamination is believed to have started decades prior. New Yorkers need to be able to trust the DOH; what we have seen from (Dr. Howard A. Zucker, commissioner of Health for New York State) makes us question whether he forgot he is the state's doctor."
How this study will affect any outstanding lawsuits against Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell International remains to be seen. It's also not clear if it will factor into Vermont's negotiations with Saint-Gobain over expanding the water system in North Bennington. We can't think of many past instances where a study, especially ones as limited as this one, changed many minds or made things clearer.