If no health concerns about PFAS, why all the fuss?

From the Newcastle Herald.

IN the eyes of the federal government’s expert health panel, there is no current evidence that supports a large impact on a person’s health as a result of high levels of PFAS exposure.

That’s the way the expert panel is reading the available evidence, having done what’s known in research terms as a systematic review of various scientific studies, including earlier systematic reviews. As a result, the panel says the evidence linking PFAS exposure to health effects is “very weak and inconsistent”, noting that hundreds of studies on PFAS have been based on just seven “cohorts” or groups of people, with “many of the studies having had too few participants to detect important associations”.

After a dismissal such as this, a casual observer could be forgiven for giving PFAS a clean bill of health.

But the panel does not – indeed, cannot – do this, because as it also acknowledges, “reviews and scientific research provide fairly consistent reports” of health impacts including reduced kidney function, alterations in immune response, altered thyroid and sex hormones and lower birth weight.

And after all, the PFAS group of chemicals came under an international spotlight from the 1990s, with a widespread scientific acceptance that they are persistent in the environment, bioaccumulative and toxic to mammals. 

So in the same breath as it questions the evidence, the panel says that “important health effects” for PFAS-exposed individuals cannot be ruled out.

So what does this report mean for the people of Williamtown and the other Australian towns unlucky enough to be hosting PFAS-affected RAAF bases?

Unfortunately, although the panel says its purpose was to look at the “potential human health effects of PFAS exposure”, it does not provide any practical advice to those whose lives have been turned upside down since the controversy erupted in 2015.  Admittedly, its terms of reference were for it to provide advice to the minister, but that advice is limited to commenting on the evidence. It does not in itself provide a way forward for a group of people who have found themselves trapped inside the red zone – their lives upended, their fears of sickness aroused and their property values smashed – only now to be told that there isn’t much evidence to support their worries, as if the whole saga has been a matter of little concern.

Something doesn’t add up.

- Newcastle Herald

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