Emory University Research Links Functional Thyroid Disease, PFOA Exposure

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By Bebe Raupe

Jan. 15 --Excessive perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) exposure appears to be associated with thyroid disease, according to new research.

A study by Kyle Steenland, environmental health professor at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, tracking the disease within a large high-exposure group concludes that the chemical “was associated with incident functional thyroid disease.”

Steenland, part of a three-epidemiologist panel convened under a class-action settlement between DuPont and Parkersburg, W.Va.-area residents to assess the health effects of PFOA contamination, based this study on health survey data provided by area residents from 2008 through 2011.

Manufactured for over 50 years at DuPont's Washington Works plant near Parkersburg, the then-untested chemical, also known as C8, was released into the Ohio River for decades, where it entered local drinking water supplies, triggering the class action over possible adverse health effects settled in 2005 .

Under the class action settlement, DuPont agreed to fund a medical monitoring program for about 80,000 area residents to screen for diseases identified by the expert panel.

Building on 'Probable Link'

Drawing from this database, Steenland examined the connection between PFOA exposure and thyroid disease among community residents and plant workers.

Steenland told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 15 that this study builds on the “probable link” findings that the C8 Science Panel report submitted to the West Virginia Circuit Court for Wood County in 2012 (.

Of 32,254 participants evaluated, more than 10 percent reported functional thyroid disease, according to the new study.

Associations were observed for hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism among women with above average levels of PFOA in their blood, said the report, and some sub-analyses suggested an increased hazard of hypothyroidism among men with similar PFOA blood levels.

C8 Panel Findings

The C8 Science Panel submitted its final reports to the court in October 2012, noting a “probable link” between exposure to the chemical and diagnosed high cholesterol .

In earlier reports the panel reported a probable link between PFOA exposure and ulcerative colitis, testicular and kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension and pre-eclampsia.

Historically, DuPont contended that PFOA--which is used in a variety of consumer products, including nonstick coatings and microwave popcorn bags--had not been shown to cause any adverse human health effects.

Commenting on the conclusion of the C8 Science Panel's work, Steenland called the process “an unprecedented way to find answers” to questions raised by the class-action.

The six-year process yielded carefully analyzed and completely neutral findings that scientists can build on, Steenland said.

His current research includes the health consequences of PFOA, a fluorocarbon which he said is present in the blood of almost all Americans.

The thyroid disease study, done with Emory assistant research professor Dr. Andrea Winquist, is scheduled to be published online in the February issue of the journal Epidemiology.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bebe Raupe in Cincinnati at braupe@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

The C8 Science Panel's “Probable Link Evaluation of Thyroid Disease” is available at http://www.c8sciencepanel.org/prob_link.html.

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