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WVU study links C8 to higher risk of cardiovascular disease

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A new West Virginia University study has found that exposure to the chemical C8 appears to be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Researchers from WVU's School of Public Health compared the levels of C8 in blood samples from a national database with the presence of cardiovascular disease, or CVD, and peripheral arterial disease, or ARD, which is a marker of arteriosclerosis.

They found that individuals with higher levels of the chemical in their blood were more likely to have both diseases, according to their study, published online this week by the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

The findings are particularly important, researchers said, because higher risk of disease was associated with levels of C8 in the blood that are related to lower levels in the general U.S. population, and not exclusively to chemical plant workers or residents living near a plant that used C8. The increased risk of disease appeared to be independent of other variances, such as age, smoking status, body mass index, and cholesterol level, the researchers said.

"Cardiovascular disease is a major public health problem," said the study, written by Dr. Anoop Shankar and other WVU researchers. "Identifying novel risk factors for CVD, including widely prevalent environmental exposures, is therefore important."

C8 is another name for perfluorooctanoate acid, or PFOA. In West Virginia, DuPont has used C8 since the 1950s as a processing agent to make Teflon and other nonstick products, oil-resistant paper packaging and stain-resistant textiles.

DuPont and other companies have reduced their emissions and agreed on a voluntary phase-out of the chemical, but researchers are still concerned about a growing list of possible health effects and about the chemical's presence in consumer products, as well as continued pollution from waste disposal practices.

Janet Smith, a DuPont spokeswoman, said her company and others in the industry "have made strong progress" toward meeting their voluntary emissions reductions and that federal data indicates the level of C8 in the general U.S. population's blood is falling.

But in a commentary also published by the Archives of Internal Medicine, Dr. Debabrata Mukherjee of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center said there is plenty of evidence to warrant additional actions to protect the public from C8 and related chemicals.

"Although it seems clear that additional prospective research is needed to tease out the true adverse cardiovascular effects of PFOA, given the concerns raised by this and prior studies, clinicians need to act now," Mukherjee wrote. "From a societal point of view, it would make sense to limit or to eliminate the use of PFOA and its congeners in industry through legislation and regulation while improving water purification and treatment techniques to try and remove this potentially toxic chemical from our water supply."

Just last week, another study co-authored by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Emory University found that girls with higher prenatal exposure to C8 and similar chemicals were smaller at birth than those with lower exposures.

In West Virginia, a three-scientist panel examining C8 issues has yet to issue its findings related to whether there is a "probable link" between chemical exposure and heart disease. The panel did report last week that it believes there is no link between C8 and stroke.

Under a DuPont legal settlement that created the C8 Science Panel, any probable link connections mean DuPont Co. will have to fund up to $235 million in future medical tests for area residents, to help provide early detection of diseases linked to exposure to C8 from the company's nearby Washington Works plant.

Science panel member Kyle Steenland said Tuesday that the group's findings would build on the WVU study with additional data about the timing of disease related to the timing of chemical exposure -- something the WVU researchers didn't have and said was one potential weakness of their paper. The Science Panel also has medical record validation of a disease diagnosis, whereas WVU relied on self-reported data.

"We will make a judgment on whether PFOA is linked to heart disease in our next and final probable link judgments, which will be made by the end of October," Steenland said in an email message.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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