PFOA health survey is extended; SUNY team joins effort

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BENNINGTON — The deadline has been extended until Feb. 28 for residents of Bennington and nearby New York state to complete a questionnaire on suspected PFOA-related health issues.

In addition, those behind the survey announced that Dr. David Carpenter, a physician and director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the State University of New York at Albany, is joining the research team that is guiding the effort.

Carpenter and his graduate students will help residents impacted by PFOA (perflourooctanoic acid) contamination of water supplies in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, N.Y., and in Bennington fill out the questionnaire.

"PFOA and related compounds are very dangerous chemicals that increase the risk of several diseases, including cancer," Carpenter said in a release. "It is urgent to not only keep people from being further exposed, but also to develop a system of following the health of those individuals already exposed so that we can detect diseases resulting from exposure early at a stage when they can treated."

Residents are encouraged to fill out the survey online at www.bennington.edu/PFOA — accessed by clicking on the "PFOA Community Health Questionnaire" link.

Launched in August in response to community concerns, the survey seeks local insight about the incidence of six illnesses that previous scientific studies have linked to PFOA exposure. This information will provide a preliminary outline of the health of residents in New York and Vermont impacted by PFOA.

"Drinking water that contains PFOA is known to cause a range of health problems," said former federal Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith Enck. "I strongly urge everyone who lives or has lived or worked in Hoosick Falls, Petersburg, and North Bennington to fill out this health questionnaire. It takes under five minutes and will provide important health information to researchers."

Since August, current and former residents in Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and Bennington have been encouraged to complete the questionnaire online. In addition, teams of researchers have been going door-to-door in the communities. Throughout January, teams will continue this canvassing.

"In the past few months we've been very encouraged by residents' participation in this questionnaire," said David Bond, associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington College. "The addition of Dr. Carpenter and this final push will help bring the deep knowledge the community has of its own health into unfolding state and federal responses to PFOA in our region,"

PFOA has come under growing scrutiny as an emerging human health risk that unfolds on the scale of parts per trillion and over the course of decades. As medical research advances new understandings of the subtle toxicity of PFOA, difficult questions about potential illnesses have arisen in communities impacted by PFOA contamination.

The questionnaire uses the findings of premier epidemiological studies of PFOA — namely, the C8 Science Panel — as a prompt to elicit local knowledge of the health impacts of PFOA.

Conducted between 2005-2013 and enrolling 69,000 residents from West Virginia communities with PFOA-tainted drinking water, the C-8 Science Panel concluded there is a "probable link" between exposure to PFOA and diagnosed high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

This questionnaire is supported by the ongoing Understanding PFOA project at Bennington College and was designed by Dr. Zeke Bernstein and Bond at the college, environmental engineer Robert Chinery; physician Dr. Howard Freed, and Enck.

After Feb. 28, the results of the questionnaire will be reported back to the communities.

The health survey can be filled out online or in paper form. Members of the research team will also be in Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh, and Bennington during January to distribute the questionnaire and help residents fill it out, as well as answer questions.

One challenge to conducting a project like this is getting former residents of the region to fill out the questionnaire, organizers said. Community members are encouraged to widely share the questionnaire with former classmates or family members and friends who have moved away.

If residents have questions about the questionnaire or would like to receive a copy, they should contact Bond, at 802-440-4324, or email UnderstandingPFOA@bennington.edu.

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


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