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Concerns of Carcinogenic PFOA: 418 Times Standard Detected in Japan Workers’ Blood, Weight Loss Reported, Residents Worried – Shizuoka City
In a factory handling the suspected carcinogenic chemical substance PFOA, 418 times the standard level of PFOA was detected in the blood of employees.
Former employees have reported significant weight loss.
In Shizuoka City Japan, the investigation also revealed concentrations above the standard in the surrounding waterways, leaving residents anxious.
The term “PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances)” refers to a group of man-made organic fluorine compounds, with over 4,700 known varieties.
Among them, PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) were extensively used for their water and oil repellent properties, and resistance to heat.
They found applications in non-stick coatings for cookware, food packaging, waterproof sprays, and firefighting foams since the 1940s.
PFOS and PFOA have been banned from production and import due to their detection in the human body, leading to concerns about their toxicity. PFOS was banned in Japan from 2010, and PFOA from 2021, with minimal usage since then. However, they persist in the environment, not naturally breaking down, accumulating in soil, flowing into groundwater, and eventually into rivers, posing environmental challenges.
The issue gained attention in the 1990s when the American chemical company DuPont’s release of PFOA led to health issues for residents living near their factory. A lawsuit was filed by over 3,500 residents, and a scientific committee established by university professors recognized health damages. In 2017, DuPont paid over 600 million dollars in compensation.
The scientific committee pointed out that individuals exposed to high levels of PFOA suffered from six diseases: kidney cancer, testicular cancer, pregnancy-induced hypertension, thyroid disorders, elevated cholesterol levels, and ulcerative colitis.
PFOA Detected 418 Times Standard in Workers’ Blood – Mitsui-Cares Fluoroproducts Shimizu Factory
The factory in question, the Mitsui-Cares Fluoroproducts Shimizu Factory in Shizuoka City, was operating under the DuPont umbrella at the time, and it was known to use PFOA in its manufacturing processes.
As a result of requests from their parent company in the United States, the factory conducted blood tests for some employees from 2008 to 2010, although the company has not publicly disclosed the test results.
According to documents obtained by TV Shizuoka, blood tests were conducted for a total of 24 people, and all 24 had PFOA levels in their blood exceeding the health risk benchmark set by American academic institutions. Some employees had PFOA levels 418 times higher than the benchmark.
Mitsui-Cares Fluoroproducts stated, “The use of PFOA was discontinued in 2013, and no employee health issues have been reported so far.”
Weight Loss of 10kg in 2 Years, Polyps Found in Stomach
We interviewed a man in his 60s who worked at the Shimizu Factory handling PFOA from 2010 for about 2 years. He was employed by a subcontractor and had the job of loading liquid substances, possibly containing PFOA, into forklifts and transporting them to designated locations. He mentioned, “I believe that the liquid was PFOA, although the company did not provide any explanation about it.” He also recalled having to wipe up any liquid spills from the tanks and initially used his bare hands but later used a mask and gloves due to a burning sensation on his skin.
The former employee from the Mitsui-Cares Fluoroproducts Shimizu Factory stated: “I was assigned to clean up spilled liquids outdoors using rags and then load them. I lost nearly 10kg in weight. I felt extreme fatigue, would come back from work, eat, and fall asleep immediately.”
Effects of PFOA on Body Weight
When asked about the potential effects of PFOA, we consulted an expert. Hiroji Harada, an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Graduate School of Medicine, explained, “Animal experiments have shown that PFOA significantly reduces body weight.”
He pointed out that while the effects on the human body are not yet fully understood, studies conducted in the United States have shown a higher incidence of kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, and other diseases in patients with high levels of PFOA and PFOS in their blood.
Documents obtained by TV Shizuoka show that PFOA levels as high as 6,120 times the benchmark value were detected in external gutters outside the Shimizu Factory in 2002.
Associate Professor Harada suggests that once contamination occurs, it may take several decades to completely eliminate it. Determining the source of contamination and implementing appropriate remediation measures are crucial.
Shizuoka City Investigation Reveals 5.4 Times Standard in Surrounding Waterways
Shizuoka City conducted a water quality investigation in October 2023, involving five rivers within the city and the surrounding waterways of the factory. The results indicated that the PFOA concentration in the waterways surrounding the factory was 5.4 times the provisional benchmark value set by the government. The findings were announced on November 1.
Additionally, water quality assessments conducted by Mitsui-Cares Fluoroproducts at the point where the factory’s wastewater is discharged outside revealed PFOA concentrations of 2 to 10 times the benchmark value between February and August 2023. Even after implementing countermeasures in September, the benchmark value was exceeded on five days out of the 20 measured.
Concerns from Surrounding Residents
Residents in the vicinity have expressed concerns, saying, “We want the company and the city to provide explanations promptly” and “We rely on well water, so we are anxious.”
The city has decided to establish a liaison committee with the company and local community associations to discuss measures further. They also plan to continue their investigations and expand the scope, including inspecting wells in residential areas surrounding the factory and examining water quality at locations connecting to the sea from the factory.
Shizuoka City Mayor Emphasizes No Immediate Health Threat
Mayor Taro Nanba emphasized that there is “no immediate threat to health” while stressing the importance of responding with a sense of urgency. He stated, “We need to address the situation with a sense of crisis, but it is not a situation where immediate action is required. Therefore, it is crucial to respond appropriately moving forward.”
PFOA is classified as a “designated substance” under the Water Pollution Control Law. While it is not categorized as a “hazardous substance,” it is defined as a substance that, when released in large quantities into public waters such as rivers and watercourses, may pose a risk to human health and the environment.
The provisional benchmark value for PFOA set by the government is 0.00005 milligrams per liter (50 nanograms per liter). This level is considered safe for health, even if a 50-kilogram individual were to drink 2 liters of water daily throughout their lifetime.
The impact of concentrations exceeding this benchmark value by 5.4 times raises concerns.
The Ministry of the Environment stated in a Q&A document from July 2023, “No cases have been confirmed in Japan where individual health issues primarily attributed to the intake of PFOS and PFOA have occurred. Some municipalities have compared cancer incidence rates between those receiving water from water treatment facilities where PFOS and PFOA were detected in the past and those that were not, but there was no significant difference.”
However, Japan does not have specific guidelines for blood concentration levels concerning health impacts, unlike the United States, where research in this area is more advanced.
Carcinogenic PFOA: 418 Times Detected in Japan Workers’ Blood
(source:internet, reference only)