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C8 linked to thyroid, bowel disease

VIENNA, W.Va. -- Exposure to C8 is probably linked to thyroid disease and to an inflammatory bowel disease called ulcerative colitis, according to the latest findings of a scientific team that is investigating the DuPont Co. chemical's potential impacts on human health.

The C8 Science Panel's report adds to conclusions of the group, which had already reported a "probable link" between C8 exposure and types of cancer and to dangerous high blood pressure among pregnant women.

Kyle Steenland, a science panel member from Emory University, said the findings aren't absolute proof that C8 causes the illnesses, but certainly indicate exposure to the chemical is "not a good thing for public health."

The Science Panel said that it found a "strong correlation" between higher exposures to C8 and ulcerative colitis, a relatively rare chronic inflammation of the digestive tract lining similar to Crohn's disease.

Panel members said that evidence regarding thyroid disease was "mixed," but that "overall, it was more probable than not" that it was linked to C8. The thyroid helps control how quickly the body uses energy and makes proteins and controls how sensitive the body is to other hormones.

In other results, panel members said they found no probable links between C8 and at least five other types of illnesses, including asthma and neurological development in children.

The findings, released during a Monday morning press conference outside Parkersburg, are the latest results from a six-year study of the DuPont chemical.

Under a legal settlement that created the Science Panel, any probable link connections mean DuPont Co. will have to fund up to $235 million in future medical tests for area residents, to help provide early detection of diseases linked to exposure to C8 from the company's nearby Washington Works plant.

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.

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.

In a statement Monday, DuPont said it would "evaluate additional information from the Science Panel as part of our long-standing commitment to the safety of our employees and customers and to responsible environmental and product stewardship."

Rob Bilott, a lawyer for Mid-Ohio Valley residents whose lawsuit prompted the Science Panel study, said he looks forward to the panel's last set of reports in October "regarding any additional serious health risks" the community may face "because of their exposure to [C8]-contaminated drinking water."

In December, the Science Panel released its first probable link findings, reporting after a year-study study that scientific evidence shows C8 exposure likely causes high blood pressure among pregnant women.

The work of the panels is part of the 2005 settlement of a lawsuit filed against DuPont by Mid-Ohio Valley residents whose drinking water was contaminated with C8 by DuPont's nearby Washington Works plant.

In April, lawyers for residents and DuPont announced the formation of a separate, three-person panel of medical experts who will design the appropriate medical monitoring program for residents, as required by the landmark legal settlement.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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