In 2016, residents in Hoosick Falls, New York, learned that for years they had been drinking water contaminated with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). One resident, Nikki Aldrich, carried her two children during this period of contamination.
The Aldrich family was interviewed by a reporter with The New York Times after receiving the results from their perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) blood level tests. Their results showed PFOA blood levels for the family’s six-year-old son and four-year-old daughter were more than 50 times the national average.
Both children are now sick with illnesses that have been linked to PFOA, according to Loreen Hackett, the kids’ grandmother.
PFOA Links to Problems in Pregnant Women
Scientists have been studying the widespread health effects of PFOA on humans. They now believe that these “forever chemicals” might harm pregnant women and their developing fetuses by interfering with gene regulators and hormones that control immunity and metabolism—two of the most critical functions of the human body—according to a recent study published in Early Life Environmental Health (August 2020).
Additional PFOA risks during pregnancy include the alteration of thyroid hormones in both fetus and mother. These hormones oversee not only growth and metabolism, but also brain development. The body’s immunity is also affected by any changes to thyroid hormones.
These risks can generate long-term effects in both the baby and mother. Specifically, research indicates that mothers who endure PFAS exposure while pregnant suffer higher risk of pre-eclampsia (a form of high blood pressure) and gestational diabetes. Risks to PFAS-exposed babies include low birth weight (linked to abnormal growth in utero). Later in life, they may also suffer from infections and childhood obesity.
More on PFOA and PFAS
The United States Environmental Protection Agency says that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and PFOA comprise man-made chemicals used largely in manufacturing a variety of products around the world. People refer to them as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment—or in the human body—and they accumulate over a period of time.
According to the EPA, PFAS exist in:
- Commercial household products: non-stick pots and pans, stain- and water-repellant fabrics, paints, polishes, fire-fighting foams, and waxes
- Food: grocery and fast-food items packaged in materials that contain PFAS are processed using equipment that consists of PFAS, or are grown in soil or water contaminated with PFAS.
- Drinking water: local water sources linked with a specific manufacturing, wastewater treatment, firefighter training, or landfill facility
- Workplace: usually industrial or production facilities that use PFAS (electronics manufacturing, oil recovery, chrome plating)
- Living organisms: humans, animals, and fish in which PFAS accumulate over time
Because these chemicals persist in the environment and in the human body, just about everyone on the planet has been exposed. PFAS will concentrate in breast milk and blood. A 2013 study published in Environment International showed that 21 PFAS were analyzed in 99 samples of human autopsy tissues.
Lawsuits against manufacturers blamed for PFAS contaminations causing serious illness have skyrocketed. National Law Review reported that legislators in the state of Michigan, particularly hard-hit by PFAS and forever chemicals, lengthened the statute of limitations to bring PFAS claims to six years after remediation begins. They also proposed another bill that aims to trigger the statute of limitations on the date it was known or should have been known that contamination had occurred, rather than on the date the chemicals were released.