A recent study by the University of Cincinnati found high levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOAs) in residents from the Mid-Ohio River Valley over a 22-year period. The study’s findings are largely consistent with increased detection of PFOAs in water sources nationwide in recent years. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as C8, persists indefinitely in the environment and is identified as a substance that is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Until recently, PFOAs were routinely used in making a number of consumer products like stain-resistant fabrics, food contact paper, water-repellent garments, microwave popcorn bags, dental floss, and most notably, Teflon® non-stock cookware. Although it’s clear the plaintiff’s bar wants to take a giant leap and state that these consumer products cause cancer, the final products do not contain PFOAs in significant amounts as the PFOAs are burned off during the manufacturing process. In line with the increased detection of PFOAs in water sources, in 2014, the EPA listed PFOA as an “emergent contaminant,” and has now established a health advisory level for PFOAs at 70 parts per trillion.
So how did the residents from the Mid-Ohio River Valley get exposed to PFOA? The study here suggests that these residents were exposed to PFOAs through contaminated drinking water from industrial discharges upstream. While PFOAs are no longer being used industrially, the study offers insight into mitigating future exposure. The study notes that use of a particular filtration – a granular activated carbon filtration (GAC) – by water treatment facilities can drastically reduce PFOA exposure by as much as 60 percent. Given that PFOAs are persistent in the environment, municipal water distribution systems should consider implementing the use of GAC filtration systems to reduce the risk of exposure to the public to PFOAs through local water supplies. And for manufacturers with plants along the Ohio River that historically utilized PFOAs in their manufacturing process, it might only be a matter of time before claims and suits by the plaintiff’s bar head upstream to their river banks and shores.