OHIO VALLEY — The C8 Science Panel released another set of findings on Monday — this time linking thyroid disease and ulcerated colitis to C8 exposure in Mid-Ohio Valley residents.
The controversial substance has been used in the production of Teflon and other consumer applications at DuPont Washington Works since the 1950s. In 2002, local water consumers in several Ohio communities including Belpre, Tuppers Plains, Little Hocking and Pomeroy discovered that the substance had made its way into their wells and aquifers.
The panel of three court-appointed epidemiologists is charged with the task of determining whether or not C8 can be linked to human disease — a determination key to the outcome of the class action lawsuit brought by Mid-Ohio Valley residents against DuPont over the contamination of local water supplies. A medical panel has already been appointed to decide what monitoring or screening might be appropriate for members of the class in light of the findings.
Dr. Kyle Steenland explained that the evidence to support the probable link finding between C8 and ulcerative colitis came from a follow-up study of 32,000 participants from the C8 Health Project who were interviewed regarding their medical history. Records were obtained to validate 160 self-reported cases of ulcerative colitis.
“Among these cases, there was a strong pattern of more disease occurring among those with higher C8 exposure,” Steenland said.
Ulcerative colitis is a rare disease characterized by chronic inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract which causes chronic pain and discomfort. There is no cure.
Similarly, the panel studied more than 2,100 validated cases of thyroid disease in local residents, analyzed data on thyroid hormones in the blood serum of residents, and considered other scientific literature. While the evidence was not consistent, the panel concluded it was “more probable than not” that C8 was linked to thyroid disease.
Further, the panel’s findings revealed that thyroid disease tended to impact men and women differently. Males who participated in the C8 Health Project were more likely to develop hypothyroidism — as opposed to females who developed hyperthyroidism. Women with the highest exposure levels were at the greatest risk for developing thyroid problems.
While screening for thyroid disease is performed routinely, panelists said it was very likely that cases are going untreated because the symptoms can be vague and non-specific.
“They might not go to the doctor, and the doctor might not find it,” Steenland explained.
He said symptoms may include fatigue, weight gain, depression or other symptoms. Treatment includes medication, which may be taken for a lifetime as needed to suppress or stimulate the thyroid.
The panel released six reports on Monday revealing their findings regarding C8 exposure and various types of human disease. The panel did not find a probable link to common infections, neurodevelopmental disorders in children, respiratory disease or stroke.
While no probable link was found to other autoimmune diseases, the researchers did find evidence that C8 exposure “may reduce vaccine efficiency” and that it is “associated with changes in a number of clinical markers of the immune system”.
“As attorneys for the affected residents, we commend the Science Panel for their continuing hard work to resolve these very important and difficult scientific questions for the community,” said Rob Bilott of Taft Stettinius & Hollister in Cincinnati. “We are confident that the Panel is working diligently to alert the community by the end of October regarding any additional serious health risks that they may face because of their exposure to PFOA-contaminated drinking water.”
Class members who suffer from diseases linked to C8 are free to proceed with their own personal injury claims against DuPont. The class action settlement agreement indicates that DuPont may not dispute that C8 can cause the specific diseases which the C8 Science Panel has linked to exposure.
In April, the C8 Science Panel linked the manmade substance to kidney and testicular cancer. Last December, the panel tied C8, otherwise known as PFOA or perfluorooctanoic acid, to pregnancy induced hypertension. The trio is scheduled to release their final reports by October.
Callie Lyons is the editor of Marietta-based newspaper The Anchor. She is also the author of a book on the topic of C8 titled, ‘Stain-Resistant, Nonstick, Waterproof, and Lethal: The Hidden Dangers of C8’.