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Study to test effect of C8 on humans

By Philip Elliott,

The National Institutes of Health will pay for a study to investigate the presence of a chemical found in the Little Hocking water system to detmine its effects on Mid-Ohio Valley residents' health.

The federal agency has allocated $840,000 during the next four years to test residents' blood and breast milk for a chemical used at the nearby DuPont Washington Works and then determine what health effects - if any - the chemical has on humans.

A class-action suit filed in West Virginia in 2001 alleges DuPont knowingly allowed a chemical with the trade name of C8, a component used during the production of Teflon, to be discharged into local water supplies at unsafe levels and caused adverse effects on residents' health.

DuPont claims there is no evidence C8 poses a threat to humans. The study will shed more data on the issue.

The research would focus on the Little Hocking Water Association, which serves 12,000 residents in western Washington County. About 400 customers would be tested as part of the study.

Cutler resident Eugene Harlow said any effort to educate customers is a good idea and research should determine the actual sources of contamination.

"I think it'd be nice if you could educate people about it," said Harlow, 80. "I wonder if some of the contamination they're blaming on DuPont isn't from some of the other plants."

Dr. Edward Emmett of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine applied for funding to examine the issue. He proposed a partnership with HealthSouth rehabilitation hospital in Parkersburg and the Decatur Community Association. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences grant requires researchers to partner with a local healthcare provider and a community organization.

"What we're really primarily trying to do is to assess the exposure in terms of what the level of C8 is in the blood of people who live in the area, and relate that to the amounts in the air and the water and other sources," Emmett said.

Decatur Community Association trustee David Freeman said his group would work to educate residents on the study, slated to begin next year.

"Really, a lot of it is going to be education," Freeman said.

The association also would coordinate a community advisory board of about 15 residents. That group would provide the local communication necessary for Emmett's research.

Emmett first learned about the issue through conversations with Dr. Hong Zhang, an occupational and environmental health physician at HealthSouth. Zhang was participating in a continuing studies program at the University of Pennsylvania.

"In our minds, there was an absence of data about what the real levels might be, what are the important factors," Emmett said. "There is virtually no, if any, independent science on this."

After an 18-month application process, Emmett heard in September his study would receive funding.

The researchers will study biomarkers, the indicators of how organs are working - or not working - and if C8 has any implications, Emmett said.

The researchers also plan to identify how residents came into contact with C8, whether through well water, commercial water systems, air or occupational experiences.

DuPont Haskell Laboratory for Health and Environmental Sciences Director Dr. Robert Rickard said the company welcomes the University of Pennsylvania efforts.

"We have not seen the details of the study design, and we cannot comment specifically," Rickard said in a statement. "However, we welcome any scientifically sound study to help us further understand exposure to the community."

Little Hocking Water Association customer Kim McMichael said he, too, welcomes the inquiry.

"It sounds great," said McMichael, 49. "I think it's necessary to do. I wish we didn't have to, though."

McMichael said the C8 study would help, but the combination of multiple chemicals in the water should be examined and the rules changed for full disclosure.

"I feel like the customers should have a right to know what's in the water," he said. "I would like to see the rules change a little bit so that if the company is putting chemicals in the water, people should be aware. I would have liked to have known when they knew."

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