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In November 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advised the mayor of the Village of Hoosick Falls, New York, to warn residents about their drinking water. The water had been found to be contaminated with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and the EPA advised that residents avoid using it for drinking or cooking until the problem could be corrected.

The toxic chemical had actually been detected at levels of over 600 parts per trillion (ppt) in June 2015, but it took authorities months to take action. During that time, a number of village residents were exposed to contaminated water, and now the blood tests are showing the damage.

According to area news outlets, the results have left many people very worried about their future health.

Residents Concerned Over PFOA Blood Test Results

On June 7, 2016, state Department of Health representatives met with residents of Hoosick Falls to discuss blood test results. So far, over 2,000 people have been tested for PFOA in their blood. Preliminary results show levels of PFOA ranging from non-detectable to more than 200 micrograms per liter (mpl). The mean level was 23.5 mpl. In general, those residents living in Hoosick Falls longer were likely to have higher numbers. The national average is 2.03 mpl.

Many residents are confused, however, as to what the levels mean. Some were surprised at the results, especially those who used filters and thought they had taken the proper precautions to protect themselves. One resident whose test result was 84.4 mpl stated he thought he was “pretty safe.” He lives one-quarter mile from the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plant, which is believed to be the source of the PFOA contamination.

Tests are ongoing, though some residents have not gotten tested. Scientists plan to break down the results even further, looking for results from people who drank from the village system or from public wells, or who were exposed to PFOA in local factories.

Numbers Only Lead to Confusion and Anxiety

But just what does it mean if you have 84.4 mpl of PFOA in your blood, or any other level, for that matter?

Scientific studies have shown that exposure to PFOA can result in health problems, including high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, and certain cancers. But we don’t know enough yet to determine at what level these diseases may take hold, or how long a person needs to be exposed before becoming vulnerable.

Residents of Hoosick Falls are getting numbers personalized to their own exposure, but these numbers are doing little more than increasing anxiety.

“I have this,” resident Maryann Jacobs told TWC News. “I’m walking around with this. My children are walking around with this.”

Mayor David Borge noted that the state had signed a consent order with Saint-Gobain and Honeywell (both companies are alleged to have contributed to contamination) to pay for water bill rebates. The state has also indicated it will seek to recover additional costs.

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