Climate Corner: Your water is not all right

Jan 14, 2023

Callie Lyons

When is DuPont going to provide a means of filtering Parkersburg water supplies contaminated with highly fluorinated chemicals like those we call C8 or Gen-X?

Twenty years ago this coming June, I attended the U.S. EPA’s initial hearings on PFAS in Washington, D.C., (though that’s not what we were calling it at the time). My coverage of that event appeared in the News and Sentinel. The subsequent community conversation was controversial and prompted far more questions than answers about the safety of long-term exposure. Often the local commentary would include the notion that if the water was truly harmful, surely the EPA would do something about it. We waited to see if they would.

Since that time studies of our population and exposed communities around the world have shown widespread damage and human health effects including the development of cancer, reproductive issues, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, pre-eclampsia and other serious concerns. Yet, this class of chemicals remains unregulated. Much studied, known to cause harm, and unregulated.

Perhaps the most concerning and illogical part of the ongoing controversy locally has to do with the fact that Parkersburg’s water supplies remain unfiltered and the government’s most dire warnings about the water for those who live in the area have gone unheeded.

As I was browsing the Environmental Working Group’s Tap Water Database recently, I was stunned to discover how remarkably high the publicly available sampling results indicated exposure levels for Parkersburg to be. It’s no surprise to me that the city water supply has unacceptably high levels of PFOA contamination. But it does surprise me that no one is trying to remedy the problem even as the government’s provisional health advisories creep lower and lower. Filtration or other treatment is inevitable. In time, it will be required by law. So, why wait?

Belpre, Little Hocking, Lubeck and Vienna have filtration systems that use granulated carbon to absorb contaminants and reduce the amount of pollution in the finished water. Yet, Parkersburg, the city most often associated with the discovery of C8 contamination in the Mid-Ohio Valley, has no such treatment for the water.

In 2009, the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry issued a directive regarding the water, which remains in effect. It states that the water should not be used to make baby formula or consumed by children, seniors, women of childbearing age, or those with compromised immune systems. This directive was not communicated to the public at the time because the official charged with doing so did not want to “cause a scare.” Such a decision deprived much of the populace of the knowledge. That was 14 years ago. How much longer do we wait to take action?

The harmful health effects of exposure such as we have in this community are known to cause many more problems than those linked by the C8 Science Panel at the conclusion of the class action lawsuit that shined a light on the bleak situation. People who live with this chemical burden suffer high rates of miscarriage. Those so exposed have a harder time absorbing Vitamin D, which leads to symptoms of depression and in particular seasonal depression. The contamination makes it easier for some people to put on weight – and ever so much more difficult to lose it. Take a look around and you will see for yourself the toll this poison is taking on our population every day.

This exhausting hopelessness is continually contributing to a climate of despair that fuels the drug epidemic, economic blight, and the erosion of our brain trust. We are poisoned. And, the poisoning continues.

Filtration isn’t everything and it will not solve all of the contamination issues compromising the water or our local environment. But, it’s a long overdue step in the right direction. It is something that can be done. Isn’t it about time someone heeded that ASTDR warning from 2009 and took action to protect the most vulnerable amongst us?

You can make a difference by contacting your city leaders to let them know of your concerns. Spread the word by letting friends and family members know of the existing guidance. If you suffer from these miserable conditions, have a conversation with your medical provider and see what can be done to improve your quality of life.

Don’t make baby formula with the water. And, don’t give it to sick people.


Callie Lyons is a journalist and author living in the Mid Ohio Valley. Her book, “Stain-Resistant, Nonstick, Waterproof and Lethal: The Hidden Dangers of C8,” was the first book to reveal the prevalence and danger of the PFAS family of highly fluorinated compounds used by industry in the manufacture of Teflon and thousands of other consumer applications.