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PFAS and phenols linked to different cancers in women of different races

According to a study by the US Geological Survey, nearly half of the tap water in the United States is contaminated with "forever chemicals" that are considered dangerous to human health. Per and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, or PFAS, are chemicals that linger in the body and are linked to health issues like cancer, obesity, liver damage, decreased fertility, thyroid disease, high cholesterol and hormone suppression. (Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Photo Illustration / Justin Sullivan
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Getty Images
According to a study by the US Geological Survey, nearly half of the tap water in the United States is contaminated with "forever chemicals" that are considered dangerous to human health. Per and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, or PFAS, are chemicals that linger in the body and are linked to health issues like cancer, obesity, liver damage, decreased fertility, thyroid disease, high cholesterol and hormone suppression.

Compounds called phenols, and a group of synthetic chemicals known as PFAS, were linked to different kinds of cancer in white women and women of color, according to a new federally-funded study in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology.

PFAS were linked to ovarian and uterine cancers mainly in white women, and phenols were linked more to breast cancer in non-white women. Phenols and PFAS are found in hundreds of daily consumer products, PFAS is an abbreviation for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

The researchers stated that the racial differences are particularly impactful because of racial disparities in exposure to these chemicals.

Nicole Deziel, member of the Yale Cancer Center and an associate professor at Yale School of Public Health, who is not associated with the study, said the findings “provided a lot of new information suggesting that exposure to PFAS could be associated with a variety of hormonally related cancers, particularly in women.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 97% of Americans have PFAS in their blood. A major source of PFAS contamination is water. The U.S. Geological Survey states that 45% of US drinking water is contaminated with PFAS.

An interactive map from the Environmental Working Group shows several sites in Connecticut with PFAS levels in water above the proposed limit.

The study also found that women who were exposed to these chemicals doubled their odds for melanoma.

But many people find it daunting to research which chemicals are in which products in their price range.

For instance, Greselda Lopez makes a living as a house cleaner in the Greater Hartford area. When asked through a Spanish language translation app if she’s heard of PFAS, she said she had not.

Deziel said the onus shouldn’t have to be on consumers.

“It's really incumbent upon regulators to ensure we have safe consumer products,” she said.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.

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