Study: Government Agencies Are Not Telling the Public How Bad PFAS Really Are
The researchers reviewed public resources on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances from state and federal agencies and other health organizations to see how these groups discussed PFAS contamination.
The analysis found that public health agencies often underestimate the scientific evidence related to the toxicity of PFAS – and that many organizations fail to give clear messages about the risks and needs of highly exposed populations, such as those who consume long water from the Cape Fear River.
“As a physician who has had to counsel many people whose drinking water has been contaminated with PFAS, sometimes for decades, I know all too well the distress and confusion felt by hard-hit communities,” said lead author Alan Ducatman, physician and professor emeritus at West Virginia University. “Patients and physicians in PFAS-contaminated neighborhoods need accurate information on how to protect their health.”
Ducatman said many patients worry about the repercussions of PFAS exposure. For example, patients with newborn babies are often concerned about breastfeeding, since PFAS is transmitted to infants through breast milk.
“We recommend breastfeeding even for highly exposed patients. We simply have more information about the many benefits of breastfeeding than the risks of PFAS in breast milk. But most of the government websites we reviewed ignored these difficult and complicated situations,” Ducatman said.
The report also noted that government agencies tend to overemphasize the uncertainty of health harms and cover up that PFAS “could” cause health effects, according to “some studies.” This language is misleading, as nearly all studies link PFAS exposure to negative health outcomes for certain immune, liver, reproductive, and cancer outcomes such as kidney or testicular cancer.
“The experimental and observational evidence supporting links between exposure to certain PFASs and adverse effects such as reduced vaccine responses and liver injury is strong,” said Jamie DeWitt, co-author and professor at the University of East Carolina. “Websites and agency fact sheets that use weak language like ‘may cause’ and ‘some studies’ of health outcomes mislead the public.”
Additionally, relatively few of the agencies examined in the study discussed how to reduce exposure to PFAS.
The researchers found positive examples of communications from some public agencies and non-profit groups that can serve as models for improvement. They recommend the Connecticut Department of Public Health’s Fact Sheet, the Clinicians’ FAQs from the Association of State and Territory Health Officials, and the Clinicians’ Tips on the PFAS-REACH Exchange website. SilentSpring Institute.
Ten leading PFAS researchers listed in the document are calling on government agencies to update their communications to better serve people in heavily contaminated communities and better align with science.
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