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Your Environment. Your Health.

Public Webinar Outlines Latest PFAS Exposure and Health Research

Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE)
The BU SRP Center Research Translation Core has partnered with CHE since 2011 to bring BU SRP Center research into the public spotlight through webinars and calls.

New information on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water and potential health effects was the focus of a May 1 Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE) webinar. The webinar was co-organized by the Boston University (BU) Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center.

PFAS chemicals have received increasing attention because they have been found in several drinking water systems and have been linked to reproductive, developmental, liver, kidney, and immunological effects.

In a December 2016 CHE call, presenters outlined the problem of PFAS in drinking water. Because of continued interest in the topic and the high volume of emerging research, organizers held this follow-up webinar to delve into practical information about PFAS testing and interpretation of contamination data, as well as new findings on potential health effects. Speakers included BU SRP Center grantee Tom Webster, D.Sc.; Nancy Rothman, Ph.D., CEO and Principal Scientist of New Environmental Horizon, Inc.; and Richard Spiese, of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, Waste Management Division.

Talks by Rothman and Spiese focused on the latest methods for measuring PFAS in drinking water and how PFAS contamination in drinking water is being addressed.

"The field of expertise is expanding quickly, and there are a lot of resources to help you keep informed on changes to regulations and methods for testing," said Rothman. She emphasized the importance of using labs with experience in PFAS analysis and described the data needed to accurately measure PFAS in community drinking water.

Spiese described lessons learned on installing and operating systems to remove PFAS at impacted residences in Vermont. He discussed system installation and their process for inspection, maintenance, and long-term monitoring of PFAS concentrations.

Webster followed the first two talks with the current state of the science on the health effects of PFAS exposure.

"We have seen an explosion of research on PFAS since the last call in December 2016," Webster said. "Since then, about 40 PFAS epidemiology papers have been published linking PFAS to health outcomes." These studies have reported associations between increased PFAS exposure and higher risk of preterm birth, thyroid hormone disruption, and decreased visual motor ability.

The webinar was moderated by BU SRP Research Translation Core leader Wendy Heiger-Bernays, Ph.D. In her introduction, she provided a short overview of the SRP and encouraged participants to learn more about the University of Rhode Island SRP Center, which is focused on sources, transport, exposure, and effects of PFAS.

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