By ecoRI News staff
NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — Those seeking information about how industrial chemicals are threatening public health have access to a new resource that provides the latest information about health risks, research and related news.
The recently launched website provides detailed information about a group of industrial compounds called perfluoroalkyl substances and polyfluoroalkyl substances, together called PFASs. Manufactured since the 1950s, the compounds are used in numerous consumer products, as well as in firefighting foams, and their serious health effects are only now beginning to emerge.
The website was developed by the University of Rhode Island as part of a federal Superfund research center established last year with funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The research center — the Sources, Transport, Exposure and Effects of PFASs (STEEP) program — is a collaboration between URI, Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Health, and the Silent Spring Institute.
“The STEEP website targets the general public with updates on our science projects, noteworthy news related to PFASs, community education events, and other details about what we’re doing,” said Rainer Lohmann, URI professor of chemical oceanography and the leader of the project. “For those concerned about their own exposure to these compounds, it also includes examples of what one can do to reduce that exposure. The website will also showcase the people behind the center, what drives them in their daily tasks, and what they hope to achieve.”
The website describes the compounds, the common products that contain them, the potential health risks from exposure, and steps to reduce those risks. It also outlines the research being undertaken by the STEEP team to better understand the compounds and their effects, from the development of detection tools and environmental fingerprinting to childhood risks and metabolic effects.
One of the study sites the researchers are focusing on is Barnstable County, Mass., where some residents are not only exposed to the compounds through consumer products but also through their drinking water, which became contaminated with PFASs as a result of firefighting foams used at Joint Base Cape Cod and the county fire training academy.
Details are also provided for residents of a second study site in the Faroe Islands of northern Europe, where residents face similar issues from consumer products but also some very different challenges based on their cultural practices.
A news section of the site provides timely information about related topics, such as the recent class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of those affected by the contaminated wells in Barnstable County, as well as a public education event scheduled for June 7 in Hyannis, sponsored by STEEP and its partners.
“There’s a great deal of useful information to be gleaned from the website, including for those who don’t live in our study sites,” Lohmann said. “Unfortunately, PFASs are truly ubiquitous these days. They can be found in polar bears, in all major oceans, and in the household and blood of humans around the globe."