An independent panel which will advise the Government on how it should respond to concerns about a manmade chemical linked to cancer and kidney disease has been fully formed.
After announcing in April that a ‘PFAS Scientific Advisory Panel’ would be chaired by senior clinician Dr Steve Hajioff, it is now understood that he will be joined by epidemiologist Dr Tony Fletcher and Dr Ian Cousins, who is a professor of environmental organic chemistry at Stockholm University.
Dr Fletcher has been researching the health effects of PFAS since 2005, as a member of a science panel which led a major investigation on potential health effects of drinking water with high levels of PFOA in West Virginia and Ohio.
More recently he has been working on epidemiology programmes in communities in Ronneby, Sweden and Veneto, Italy.
Professor Cousins's experience in PFAS goes back to 1999, and he has undertaken extensive research into the family of chemicals, and leads research groups focusing on understanding the sources and uses of PFAS, including how it is transported in the environment.
Pictured: Some of the products which have or had PFAS in them.
A letter sent from Director of Public Health Professor Peter Bradley to islanders who volunteered to have their blood tested for PFAS last year says that candidates from around the world were considered for the roles.
The members of the panel will be able to call upon a pool of additional global experts to provide testimonies or clinical advice to the panel. Islanders will also be asked to provide their own evidence.
The panel’s first report will be a review of evidence around ‘therapeutic phlebotomy’, which is, in essence, having blood removed and letting the body naturally replenish stocks in order to reduce PFAS levels.
It will also assess the impact of PFAS exposure on health and clinical interventions, blood testing and re-testing, and managing the chemical compound in the environment.
Pictured: The first subject that the panel will tackle is the effectiveness of blood letting to rid the body of PFAS.
The panel will be formally launched on Thursday 8 June and its first meeting will be on 15 June to discuss the scope of its first report. Islanders are able to watch the meeting virtually.
PFAS is the collective name for about 15,000 chemicals often used to make thousands of products resistant to water, stains and heat.
The compounds are ubiquitous, and linked at low levels of exposure to cancer, thyroid disease, kidney dysfunction, birth defects, autoimmune disease and other serious health problems.
They are called “forever chemicals” because of their longevity in the environment.
Types of PFAS were ingredients of firefighting foam sprayed at the Airport until 2020. The carbon-based compound has subsequently been found in high concentrations in St Ouen’s Bay and the Pont Marquet water catchment, which flows from the Airport to St Aubin.
Pictured: The lake at Simon Sand and Gravel in St. Ouen's Bay has been found to have high levels of PFAS, including in its fish.
Responding to the concerns of residents, the Government last year funded a blood-testing programme for residents who lived or worked in these areas during a defined period of time.
Half of the 72 islanders tested were found to have high levels in their bodies.
The States are prohibited from seeking damages from the manufacturer of the firefighting foam after it signed a deal with chemical giant 3M in 2004, which gave a legally binding commitment not to sue the US firm in exchange for £2.6m, which it used to clean up the contaminated Airport fire training area.
The Government is also legally obliged to provide information to 3M, to help the company defend claims made against it, including by islanders who believe their health has been damaged by pollution.
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