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PFOA a Likely Carcinogen

Pollution in People Report - Chapter 4 - PFCs - section 3

For 50 years, PFCs were used in consumer products without government scrutiny to ensure their safety. But industry-led laboratory studies indicate that our study participants—and the public at large—should be concerned that their PFC levels may be harming their health. In animal tests, female rats with a blood serum PFOA level of approximately 40 ppb had smaller offspring with reduced growth in later life (EPA 2002, EWG 2003). Female rats with the same level had Other effects, including increased number of dead offspring and altered size of the liver and pituitary in surviving pups, were seen at higher doses. No one knows exactly what this means for people, but there is considerable cause for concern when, pound for pound, levels in ordinary people like Bill Finkbeiner approach the levels shown to harm laboratory animals.

 “The monkey and the rat test results were scary. The monkeys all died, and with the rats, the pups died.” —anonymous EPA official (Renner 2003)

PFOA also causes liver, pancreatic, testicular, and mammary gland tumors in laboratory animals (EPA 2002). Studies by 3M to see whether workers exposed to PFOA were more likely to die of cancer have found a possible link to prostate and testicular cancer (Gilliland 1993, Alexander 2001). In 2004, EPA asked an advisory panel of 17 independent scientists to consider the evidence on PFOA’s carcinogenicity. In February 2006, the verdict came in:  the panel declared PFOA “likely to be carcinogenic.”

PFOS has its own problems. As long ago as the 1970s, scientists obtained disturbing results when they exposed monkeys to the chemical. In the first study, no exposed rhesus monkeys survived past three weeks (Goldenthal 1979 as described in OECD 2002). Before they died, the monkeys were weak and lethargic and suffered twitching, trembling, and convulsions. A follow-up study, using lower doses, caused anorexia, diarrhea, convulsions, and harm to the pancreas. Even at the lowest dose, monkeys were listless and had gastrointestinal troubles.

PFOS also causes cancer and reproductive problems in laboratory animals. A two-year study in rats found increases in liver and thyroid cancer (OECD 2002). When pregnant rats were exposed to PFOS, many of the offspring died shortly after birth. When the survivors reproduced, their pups were smaller at birth than the pups of unexposed animals. In rabbits, offspring of exposed mothers had more skeletal abnormalities and lower birth weight.


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