Islanders who believe their health has been adversely impacted by drinking water contaminated with a family of chemicals linked to cancer and kidney disease have urged a new panel of experts to focus on methods of removing it from the body.
One resident who attributes his blood cancer to drinking water containing ‘PFAS’ has also called on the Government to compensate those affected.
Last week, the Government announced that a chair of a ‘PFAS Scientific Advisory Panel’ been appointed.
UK-based Dr Steve Hajioff, who has experience of leading environmental and health programmes, will now appoint the rest of the panel.
Reporting to Director of Public Health, Professor Peter Bradley, the panel will make recommendations on potential clinical interventions and advise the Government on the latest evidence on the health impacts of PFAS, blood testing programmes and environmental management.
Islander Paul Berghouse, who was a lifeguard in St Ouen’s Bay for 30 years, said that the panel needed to prioritise exploring the latest research into whether PFAS – a manmade chemical that was added to products because its ability to repel water, heat and fuel – damaged human health.
Pictured: PFAS was an ingredient of firefighting foam sprayed at the Airport until 2020.
“I firmly believe that there is, as do a growing body of scientists, but some past officers in Government didn’t agree,” he said.
Mr Berghouse added that the panel should also prioritise looking into removing blood from islanders who have high levels of PFAS in their system.
Early research has indicated that taking blood and letting the body naturally replenish itself lowers levels of the carbon-based family of substances, which have been dubbed ‘forever chemicals’ due to their resistance to naturally breaking down.
“There has been some research, which has been peer reviewed, on Australian firefighters,” he said. “No one knows if removing PFAS from the blood will improve the quality of one’s life, but if we don’t try it, how will we know?”
One particular PFAS, called PFOS, was an ingredient of firefighting foam sprayed at the Airport until the early 1990s.
When the Airport stopped using foam containing PFOS in 1993, it continued to use a type that contained another PFAS, called PFHxS, until 2020.
In a Government-funded blood testing programme last year, every one of the 78 islanders who took part had PFHxS in their body, with 81% having it at a high level.
Another islander who believes that PFAS has had a significant impact on his health is Graeme Farmer, who has had blood cancer.
He said: “I think the panel should have two priorities: firstly, they should recommend that the Government cleans up the mess they have created.
“They knew about this poison for years and did nothing about it. It is pretty straightforward to identify the Airport as the main source of the contamination, but it is harder to prove that people became ill because of it.
“In my opinion, the only way is to test people around the island, including those who did not live in areas of known contamination. Only then will we know the true extent of this.”
He added: “The second priority is to develop a scheme to financially compensate those who have been affected.
"I had no history of cancer in my family, yet my father got kidney cancer after we moved to a farmhouse by the Airport and I’ve been told my cancer is likely to started when I was living there in my early 30s.”
Mr Farmer said that his cancer had had a deep impact on his family life, including his young son watching his father going through painful and debilitating treatment.
Sarah Simon has lived in St. Ouen’s Bay for her whole life. Not only does she attribute her own health issues to PFAS but she has also conducted her own research into the matter, including testing her own blood before the Government launched its own programme.
She said: “The main aim of the PFAS science panel should be to minimise PFAS toxins from our environment, remediate where required and protect all forms of life from continued exposure.
“For those islanders who have been affected already, a form of clinical trial to significantly reduce the volumes of PFAS in their blood should be conducted immediately.”
She added: “This is not an ‘emerging science’ as being proffered by the Government; the dangers of PFAS exposure have been known since the 1970s.
“We were promised that this science panel would be set up quickly, that was four months ago and all that is in place is a chair who does not appear to have a lot of experience of the PFAS issue, which is a major concern to me.”
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