Highly Fluorinated Compounds – Social and Scientific Discovery

On June 14th and 15th the Northeastern University Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute (SSEHRI) hosted Highly Fluorinated Compounds- Social and Scientific Discovery, a two-day conference addressing the social, scientific, political, economic, and environmental health issues raised by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). Scientists, community advocates, government officials, state legislators,  journalists, environmental advocates, lawyers, and students convened in Boston to share their experiences addressing PFAS contamination throughout the country. The Organizing Committee (SSEHRI, Testing for Pease, Silent Spring Institute, and Toxics Action Center) worked for a year and a half to connect with a wide range of people and organizations to develop this unique conference. The nearly 180 attendees represented groups and organizations such as the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, New Hampshire Public Radio, The Intelligencer, Keep Your Promises DuPont, Green Science Policy Institute, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Community members and activists from Oscoda Township MI, Portsmouth NH, Hoosick Falls NY, Westfield MA, Newburgh NY, Greenwich CT, Warminster/Willow Grove PA, Merrimack NH, and Parkersburg OH attended.

As discussed by Dr. Alissa Cordner (Whitman College) in her closing comments, the dangers of PFASs have remained invisible for far too long. Although we may refer to the class of chemicals as an emerging contaminant, discovery of adverse health effects and contamination began in the 1960s. In 1961 and 1962, animal and human studies linked PFASs with liver damage and polymer fume fever. For the next several decades, DuPont and 3M’s internal health studies paint a troubling picture, pointing to birth defects in rats, persistence in the environment, PFAS presence in workers’ blood, and drinking water contamination in Ohio. While the EPA received internal industry documentation on these studies in the early 2000s, the agency has primarily focused on issuing short and long-term health advisories for two of the over 3,000 compounds in this expanding chemical class.

The ‘invisibility’ of PFASs arises from many different factors. Chemical companies like 3M and DuPont conduct their own internal health effect testing, and under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) industry is rarely required to disclose research on existing chemicals to the EPA. The limitations of TSCA combined with EPA’s delayed research and action impede health-protective remediation and prevention of continued exposures. Additionally, this structural lack of independent science and public information ultimately hinders communication between scientists, media, and contaminated communities. Social science research consistently shows that coalitions of stakeholders are necessary for bringing about progressive, public-health oriented regulatory protections.

Despite these obstacles, advocates, scientists, and community members continue to work to make PFASs visible. The multi-stakeholder attendance at our conference is a testament to the power of organizing and sharing information. In just two days, scientists shared data with colleagues and community representatives, journalists heard numerous stories of contamination and discovery, and attendees participated in coalition building and strategizing. Jenny Wagner (Bucks County Courier Times) led a workshop advising community members how to engage with the media. She highlighted the importance of this partnership, stating that one working without the other can be ineffective and inefficient. Ohio State University graduate student Jason Galloway detailed his kayak journey down the Ohio and Little Hocking Rivers, in which he collected samples that contributed to mapping PFOA and GenX contamination via water and air deposition into soil as far as 20 miles away from the source, DuPont’s Parkersburg, WV facility. Rob Bilott recounted his decades of legal work exposing DuPont’s knowledge of PFASs’ health dangers and bringing redress to plaintiffs. Through further scientific testing and community building, PFASs will continue to re-emerge and become visible to the public, communities, and other interested stakeholders.

SSEHRI would like to thank Dr. Linda Birnbaum, Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), for delivering the keynote address, and our esteemed speakers and panelists who shared their stories and experiences with our community. In addition, we would like to express our sincere gratitude to the Silent Spring Institute (Newton, MA), Testing for Pease (Portsmouth, NH), and Toxics Action Center (Boston, MA) for cosponsoring the conference and providing critical day-of assistance. Funding came from an NIEHS R-13 Conference Grant, with additional funding from PROTECT, the Puerto Rico Test Site to Explore Contamination Threats (Northeastern’s Superfund Research Program) and the Northeastern Humanities Center.

Conference Agenda and Materials

Day 1 June 14, 2017

8:15-9:00     Introduction to the conference and overview of PFASs and the challenges of communities with affected drinking water 

Phil Brown (Northeastern University) Phil Brown Slides

Laurel Schaider (Silent Spring Institute) Laurel Schaider Slides

Sylvia Broude (Toxics Action Center) Sylvia Broude Slides

Watch the introduction and keynote

9:00-9:45         Keynote Address

Linda Birnbaum (Director, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) Linda Birnbaum Slides

Watch the introduction and keynote

9:45-10:30       Social and scientific discovery – The legal angle

Rob Bilott (Taft Law; counsel on DuPont litigation)

10:45-11:25     Social and scientific discovery – The national organization level 

Ken Cook (Environmental Working Group) Ken Cook Slides

Watch Ken’s presentation

11:25-12:45   State of the science on PFASs State of the Science Slides

Courtney Carignan (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)

Richard Clapp (University of Massachusetts-Lowell)

Alan Ducatman (West Virginia University)

Watch the State of the Science panel presentations

1:45-3:15         Community organizing (Military and airport sites)

Andrea Amico (Testing for Pease – Portsmouth, NH) Andrea Amico Slides

Cindi Ashbeck (Veterans and Civilians Clean Water Alliance)

Aaron Weed (Township Board, Oscoda, MI)

Hope Grosse and Joanne Stanton (Warminster, PA) Hope Grosse and Joanne Stanton Slides

Susan Gordon (Colorado Springs, CO)

Watch the Community Organizing panel presentations

 3:30-5:00         Source identification and drinking water treatment

Mark Ells (Town of Barnstable, MA)

Elsie Sunderland (Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences) Elsie Sunderland Slides

Brandon Kernen (New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services) Brandon Kernen Slides

Andrew Lindstrom (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) Andrew Lindstrom and Jason Galloway Slides

Jason Galloway (Ohio State University)

Watch the Source Identification panel presentations

5:00-6:00         Social and scientific discovery: Building a broad coalition around chemical classes

Alissa Cordner (Whitman College) Alissa Cordner and Lauren Richter Slides

Lauren Richter (Northeastern University)

Tony Fletcher (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)

Watch the Social and Scientific Discovery panel presentations

Day 2 June 15, 2017

8:45-10:15       Scientists working with communities

Frank Bove (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)

Courtney Carignan (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health) Courtney Carignan Slides

Edward Emmett (University of Pennsylvania)

Laurel Schaider (Silent Spring Institute) Laurel Schaider Slides

Watch the Scientists Working with Communities panel presentations

10:30-12:00     Role of local, state, and federal agencies

Fardin Oliaei (DST Health Solutions; formerly Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) Fardin Oliaei Slides

Christina Bush (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services)

Sue Manente (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services) Sue Manente Slides

Alyssa Schuren (The Management Center; formerly Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation)

Watch the Role of Local, State, and Federal Agencies panel presentations, Part 1

Watch the Role of Local, State and Federal Agencies panel presentations, Part 2

1:00-2:30         Community organizing (Industrial sites)

Joe Kiger (Keep Your Promises DuPont)

Silvia Potter (Hoosick Falls, NY)

Tracy Carluccio (Delaware Riverkeeper Network) Tracy Carluccio Slides

Laurene Allen (Citizens for Clean Water in Merrimack, NH) Laurene Allen Slides

Watch the Community Organizing panel presentations

2:30-3:30         Local and investigative media coverage

Mariah Blake (author of Welcome to Parkersburg)

Emily Corwin (New Hampshire Public Radio)

Sharon Lerner (The InterceptSharon Lerner Slides

Watch the Local and Investigative Media panel presentation

3:45-5:00         Small Group Workshops

1) Is a Health Study Right for My Community?

Dick Clapp (University of Massachusetts-Lowell)

Greg Howard (Environmental Health Consultant)

2) Legal Considerations for Impacted Communities

Gary Davis (Davis and Whitlock Environmental Law)

Ken Rumelt (Vermont Law School’s Environment and Natural Resources Law Clinic)

Kevin Hannon (The Hannon Law Firm)

3) How to Build Positive Relationships with Legislators

Rep. Mindi Messmer (New Hampshire State Representative District 24)

Senator Brian Campion (Vermont General Assembly – Bennington County)

4) Beyond Water: Retailer and Manufacturer Action on PFASs in Consumer Products

Laurel Schaider (Silent Spring Institute)

Arlene Blum (Green Science Policy Institute)

5) Effective Strategies for Engaging with Media

Jenny Wagner (Bucks County Courier Times)

6) How Health Professionals Can Help Affected Communities

Alan Ducatman (West Virginia University)

7) Scientist Discussion of Coordinated Health Studies for Exposed Communities

Courtney Carignan (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)

5:00-5:30         Closing comments and future directions

Phil Brown (Northeastern University)

Arlene Blum (Green Science Policy Institute)

Alissa Cordner (Whitman College)

Shaina Kasper (Toxics Action Center)

Andrea Amico (Testing for Pease)

Watch the Closing Comments