Panel links C8 to high blood pressure in pregnancy
VIENNA, W.Va. -- A three-person team of scientists has found a "probable link" between C8 and high blood pressure among pregnant women, but no such link between exposure to the chemical and other reproductive effects, the team announced Monday.
Members of the C8 Science Panel issued the findings, which are the first major conclusions of their six-year study of the DuPont Co. chemical.
The Science Panel's work is part of a class-action lawsuit settlement between DuPont and Mid-Ohio Valley residents whose water was contaminated with C8 by DuPont's nearby Washington Works plant.
Reports of the panel's first "probable link" findings were filed Monday morning with Wood Circuit Judge J.D. Beane and released to the media at a news conference at a local conference center.
Panel members said evidence they reviewed was "insufficient" to conclude a probable link between C8 exposure and birth defects, preterm births, low birth weight, miscarriages and stillbirths.
But the group said scientific studies show a probable link between chemical exposure and pregnancy-induced hypertension, which is high blood pressure among pregnant women who did not have the condition prior to pregnancy.
Panel member David Savitz of Brown University said the condition "is certainly a serious complication of pregnancy," which can threaten the health of the mother and the baby. When combined with leakage of protein into the urine, this high blood pressure is an especially serious condition called pre-eclampsia.
While the high blood pressure can "resolve itself" after birth, Savitz said in an interview that the condition also puts mothers at increased risk of high blood pressure during future pregnancies and later in life. The condition can also prompt reduced fetal growth and early delivery, raising concerns about developmental problems for babies.
"This is a medically significant problem," Savitz said.
Three of four analyses of Mid-Ohio Valley residents showed small elevations in pregnancy-induced hypertension or pre-eclampsia among women with the highest C8 exposures, the Science Panel said. The evidence was "not completely consistent across the studies," but "is strong enough to conclude there is a probable link," the panel said.
Along with four reports on their probable link findings, C8 Science Panel members were also issuing new "status reports" related to updated figures on C8 blood levels in Mid-Ohio Valley residents, outlining a connection between C8 exposure and thyroid disease, and a more detailed look at C8 and reproductive health outcomes.
Savitz and panel members Kyle Steenland and Tony Fletcher were appointed to study C8 and determine if there is a "probable link" between exposure and illness.
If they conclude there is, DuPont could be on the hook for up to $235 million for future medical monitoring for area residents. A finding of no "probable link" for a particular potential health effect eliminates the ability of residents to sue DuPont for personal injuries related to such a health effect.
Lawyers for the residents welcomed the Science Panel findings, and said they would move to immediately set up a separate panel of doctors charged under the settlement with implementing the medical monitoring plan.
In a prepared statement, DuPont said it would "move forward with our obligations under the settlement agreement," but added that the company "does not believe that PFOA causes pregnancy-induced hypertension."
The term "probable link" isn't a standard one for scientists who study toxic chemical exposure. It's defined in the DuPont legal settlement as whether "based upon the weight of the available scientific evidence, it is more likely than not that there is a link between exposure to C8 and a particular human disease" among Mid-Ohio Valley residents taking part in the suit.
Savitz said that panel members did their own studies and reviewed papers by other scientists, using standard statistical tools to determine if C8 exposure was associated with increased risk of disease. Then, Savitz said, the group used the settlement agreement's language to determine if those associations were likely caused by C8 exposure.
"This is a judgment that we made," Savitz said. "The balance is tipped if it's more than 50 percent likely."
Savitz said panel members voted on their probable link findings, but declined to say if all of the votes were unanimous.
C8 is another name for perfluorooctanoate acid, or PFOA. In West Virginia, DuPont has used C8 since the 1950s as a processing agent to make Teflon and other nonstick products, oil-resistant paper packaging and stain-resistant textiles.
DuPont and other companies have reduced their emissions and agreed on a voluntary phase-out of the chemical, but researchers are still concerned about a growing list of possible health effects and about the chemical's presence in consumer products, as well as continued pollution from waste disposal practices.
More probable link determinations are due in the spring, with the final report from the Science Panel expected by July.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said Parkersburg resident Joe Kiger, one of the plaintiffs in the original suit against DuPont. "This is not something we wanted, but something we've been afraid was there."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1702.