Toxic Shock

100-million Americans are about to find out they are drinking poisoned water

Loreen Hackett

Loreen Hackett

Loreen Hackett, of Hoosick Falls, New York, a town of some 3,400 located not far from the Vermont border, found out about the high levels of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in her family’s blood in May 2016.

“My daughter came to my house, terrified, in tears,” Loreen told me. “The results were horrifying. My grandson Corey, six, had a level of 142 parts per billion (ppb). Alyssa, four, had a level of 117 ppb.” Then there was Baby Stella who arrived in 2018. Stella was diagnosed with a thyroid disease at five months, “not having been exposed to the water, but solely to a highly PFAS-exposed mother during pregnancy,” Loreen says.

That was shortly after accidental activist, Michael Hickey, whose father had succumbed to chemically linked kidney cancer, revealed that the town’s drinking water was contaminated with PFAS from more than ten plastics plants that fueled the economy from the late 1950s through the present.

The PFAS family consists of highly durable chemicals that resist flames, water, and grease. They’re used in thousands of consumer items. But they are also known as forever chemicals because they remain in the environment and human body seemingly for an eternity. They are documented to cause human liver, kidney, thyroid, and testicular cancer.

The PFAS chemicals are also known to be endocrine disruptors, meaning they have a profound influence on the body’s sex hormones that fuel gonadal and brain development. Many endocrine disruptors either mimic estrogen or block testosterone. Either way, their impact on male sexual health includes shorter penises, smaller testicles or an undescended one, poor sperm quality later in life, infertility, and smaller-than-normal anogenital distance (AGD), all of which indicates estrogen dominance and feminization.

Although the impact of endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as PFAS on gender identity is of real interest, Loreen's family must brace itself for other more immediate concerns: higher risk for kidney, prostate, and testicular cancers and thyroid disease are all documented health effects of the PFAS family.

NATIONWIDE POISONING

In the case of Hoosick Falls, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics site, located in the town at 14 McCaffrey Street, to its Superfund National Priorities List in July 2017, making it one of the country’s most hazardous waste sites.

EWG Table

EWG Table

However, another 10,000 communities and towns and 100-million persons across America are about to wake up to their own PFAS nightmare. That’s how many persons are now drinking PFAS-tainted water, according to an analysis of EPA-mandated nationwide testing results by the Environmental Working Group.

“It is very likely more nightmares like Hoosick Falls are to come,” says Rob Hayes of New York Environmental Advocates. He notes that the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG) has found that up to some 16-million New Yorkers alone are now known to be drinking water with PFAS, dioxane, chromium-6, and other chemical toxins from approximately 270 water systems. (The actual number of total persons being served contaminated tap water is lower as an unknown number of persons in the survey were served by more than one water system at home, work, or daycare.)

About 2,075 smaller water systems and private wells in New York remain completely untested, adds Hayes.

PFAS VS. CORONAVIRUS

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, the state’s Department of Health (DOH) has been slow to act and release vital information about PFAS water contamation, says Elizabeth Moran of NYPIRG. Without this information, the gravity of the situation won’t be known, and more New Yorkers will be hurt.

Despite having the EPA-mandated test results and additional findings from testing some of the smaller water systems, the DOH has refused to add this information to its online water-quality database. This withholding of information leaves the public powerless to protect itself, Moran adds.

“The first step in ensuring that drinking water supplies are adequately protecting the public is to empower New Yorkers through access to information,” says Moran. “Since no level of PFAS has been proven safe, citizens have a fundamental right to know now if their water contains any detectable levels. The state should immediately add this information to the statewide public database.”

The state’s legislators, back in 2017, passed the Emerging Contaminant Monitoring Act that was thought to be the most proactive PFAS law in the nation. It required the state DOH to create a list of emerging contaminants and test for them statewide. However, more than three-years later, the DOH has yet to implement the law. “As a result, water suppliers are not even required to test for PFAS or disclose their presence, even if detected, to their customers,” adds Moran.

One bit of good news: DOH had been expected to hold a final hearing in April to establish a maximum contaminant level of 10 parts per trillion (ppt) for two members of the PFAS family. But the bad news is that these standards apply to only two PFAS when analytical tests indicate many more are present in the water. While some standard is better than none, “there is no evidence that 10 ppt standards are protective, as we know PFAS can cause reproductive effects in experimental studies as low as 1 ppt,” says Moran. Further, because of the coronavirus outbreak, it is likely that the final hearing will be delayed.

THEY NEED HEALTH AND MEDICAL CARE

As a survivor who has fought off cancer, Loreen doesn’t know what impact these chemicals will have on her grandkids, nor do the doctors. But there will be health effects, and they could be devastating, which is why she communicates with other PFAS victims via her PFOAProjectNY twitter page.

“Having no guidance from any state or federal health officials, we are literally on our own to figure out what to do next, but the red flags of our health conditions are becoming apparent…” Loreen tells me.

Loreen Hackett 2

Loreen Hackett 2

“New Yorkers who've been exposed need health counseling,” Loreen says. “While monitoring is useful in giving persons their blood levels of exposure, it may be scary, especially if people haven’t educated themselves about what health effects and illnesses to be aware of; what makes things worse is I am finding many doctors aren't fully educated either. This is extremely concerning. More often than not, people tell me they have to educate their physicians on the signs and symptoms of PFAS poisoning.”

“We need screening and education for testicular cancer in the high schools of contaminated communities,” says Michael Hickey who quickly reeled off three cases among the young men of Hoosick Falls. “Males growing up in contaminated communities must immediately learn how to do testicular self-exams.” (That means examining each testicle gently with both hands by rolling it between the thumb and forefingers, finding the epididymis, the soft tube-like structures behind that collect and carry sperm, and looking for lumps or irregularities as well as changes in size, shape, or texture.)

Michael continues, “We need to educate and prepare young people who may move out of a contaminated community to prepare them for the possibilities of illness down the road. Forever chemicals means the forever possibility of getting sick.”

And what of Baby Stella, Alyssa, and Corey, and the children and grandchildren of another 100-million citizens in another 10,000 towns across America?

comments powered by Disqus