UAlbany School of Public Health and New York State Department of Health Receive $1 Million Grant for PFAS Health Study

A kitchen faucet with running water.

The School of Public Health and the New York State Department of Health announced a joint grant of $1 million to fund the first year of a five-year project from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry to support a health study of exposures of residents living in communities with drinking water contaminated with per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

As one of seven sites nationally selected for funding, New York’s study will include participants from the Hoosick Falls and Newburgh areas, two communities affected by types of PFAS contamination — perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in the case of the former, and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) in the case of the latter.

As the first national study to look at exposure to multiple PFAS at multiple sites, the goal of the study is to better understand the relationship between PFAS exposure and health outcomes in differing populations. The information will benefit all communities faced with the challenges of PFAS drinking water exposures and protecting public health.

“UAlbany’s School of Public Health is honored to be part of this pioneering research that will not only advance scientific knowledge in this arena but will also provide information that can help to directly improve the health of persons living in Upstate New York, especially Hoosick Falls and Newburgh,” said David Holtgrave, dean of the School of Public Health and SUNY Empire Innovation Professor. “Truly this is rigorous science that has real, timely, practical importance.”

“Being a part of this prestigious national study of health effects potentially associated with these emerging contaminants is another opportunity to further New York’s commitment to better understanding the impact of PFAS exposures in our affected communities,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. “This health study will help to inform and guide important research that will guide our work in communities affected by PFAS for years to come.”

The project will be led by co-principal investigators Erin Bell, professor of Environmental Health Sciences at UAlbany, and Elizabeth Lewis-Michl, director of the Division of Environmental Health Assessment at NYS DOH’s Center for Environmental Health.

The multi-site health study was authorized by the National Defense Authorization Acts of 2018 and 2019. NYS will work cooperatively with the CDC and the six other funded entities on the national study. The multi-site study will recruit 2,000 children aged 4–17 years and 6,000 adults aged 18 years and older who were exposed to PFAS-contaminated drinking water. NYS will recruit a total of 1,000 adults and 300 children from the Hoosick and Newburgh areas, communities impacted by legacy industrial sources and firefighting foams used by the military and others. This effort will build upon the extensive information about PFAS exposures already collected by the NYS Department of Health through its PFAS blood testing programs and extensive public water system and private well testing. The project’s planning phase begins Oct. 1.

NYS DOH is one of eight organizations being funded nationwide for a total of $6 million for projects to expand the understanding of the environmental sources of PFAS related to waste streams and identify practical approaches to decrease potential impacts of PFAS from these sources.

Some studies in humans have shown that certain PFAS may affect the developing fetus and child, including possible changes in growth, learning and behavior. In addition, they may decrease fertility and interfere with the body’s natural hormones, increase cholesterol, affect the immune system and increase cancer risk. PFOA was most commonly used nationally in non-stick cookware until its discontinuation in 2005, and PFOS was an ingredient formerly used in firefighting foam at Air National Guard bases nationwide and across New York State. After PFOA was found in drinking water supplies in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, and PFOS was discovered in the City of Newburgh's water supply, the State took measures to provide alternative clean drinking water for residents while holding polluters accountable for remediation and expenses.

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