CDC Punts on Studying PFAS Cancer Risks

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For Immediate Release: Apr 04, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

CDC Punts on Studying PFAS Cancer Risks

Study to look at relationship between PFAS exposure and select health outcomes

Washington, DC — On April 1st, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced plans to conduct a health study on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, a type of toxic chemical found in drinking water throughout the United States. According to the agency’s draft planning document, the study will not assess whether exposure to the chemicals can cause cancer, a primary concern of those who have been drinking PFAS-contaminated water.

Today PEER sent a letter to the Director of the CDC, Robert R. Redfield, MD, asking him to intervene to ensure that the study addresses the cancer risks of exposure to PFAS as part of its study, or to layout an alternative plan for the CDC to study cancer and PFAS.

“It’s baffling why the CDC has decided not to assess the risk of cancer from exposure to PFAS as part of this study,” said Kyla Bennett, PEER Science Policy Director. “That the CDC left cancer out of this study raises concerns and suspicions. Those exposed to PFAS need more information on the cancer risks associated with exposure to these chemicals.”

The study will evaluate lipids, renal function and kidney disease, thyroid hormones and disease, liver function and disease, glycemic parameters, diabetes, and immune response and function in both children and adults.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies PFOA, a type of PFAS, as possibly carcinogenic to humans, and the American Cancer Society says that it may increase risk of testicular, kidney or thyroid cancer. Because of their toxicity and bio-persistence, industry voluntarily agreed to begin phasing out one version of the chemical, PFOS, in 2002 and to phase out another, PFOA, by 2015. However, industry immediately began replacing PFOA and PFOS with new unregulated short-chain PFAS chemicals (a slight variation of chemical formula) and continue to do so at a high rate.

Widely used in fire retardants, repellents, furniture, take-out containers and non-stick cookware, among many other applications, PFAS do not break down in the environment and bioaccumulate in the food chain. According to new research from Harvard University, more than 16 million Americans drink water contaminated with PFAS.

In addition to cancer risks, some studies have shown that PFAS are associated with birth defects, developmental damage to infants, the liver, kidneys, and immune system.

“The CDC is in a unique position to look at the relationship between PFAS exposure and health outcomes,” said Bennett, a scientist and attorney who formerly worked with EPA. “It is perplexing why they have chosen not to examine exposure and cancer outcomes.”


Read the PEER Letter to the CDC

See the CDC’s announcement of its plan to conduct a health study

Read the CDC’s draft planning document

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