WRAFT is seeking participants for PFAS health study

Kristen Mello and Christopher Clark speak to residents about a public health study at a WRAFT meeting on Tuesday. (Photo by Amy Porter)

WESTFIELD – Westfield Residents Advocating for Themselves (WRAFT) held an information meeting on Tuesday on efforts to begin a public health study with UMASS on the health effects of exposure to polyfluorinated compounds (PFAS), such as the elevated levels found in Westfield water on the north side of town due to contamination from fire-fighting foam used by the Air National Guard decades ago.
Christopher Clark, an environmental science major at UMASS, said he has been communicating with the School of Public Health, which he said is very interested and is actively applying for grants. He said they need as many people to participate as possible. “UMASS has told us, if we work the community side to get people involved, they’ll work the science,” Clark said.
According to Kristen Mello, founding member of WRAFT, the current focus of the community-driven project is to gather information from a broad group of people interested in participating.
Both Clark and Mello said the purpose of the study will be long-term science, and isn’t going to answer direct concerns in the community. “Science is all about not proving things, but disproving,” said Clark.
Although PFAS is considered an emerging contaminant, Mello said that some people have known about it since the ‘70’s. She said in 1999, the 3M Company, one of the makers of the fire-fighting foam, noted PFAS resistance to degradation in the environment.
Clark said fluorocarbons were considered “miracle chemistry” because of their properties of being stain proof, waterproof, and grease proof. They are used in jeans, tents, outdoor gear, stain-resistant fabric, cosmetics, and frozen food packaging, among other common items.
“We are as addicted to PFAS as we are addicted to oil,” Mello said.
Mello said the way to get a public health study funded is to start with getting people interested in participating. Then, when the UMASS proposal goes forward, they will know that Westfield is ready. She said they are looking for people to get involved from all across the city, not just those from the north side of town.
WRAFT has posted a public health survey form on its Facebook page asking people who are interested to sign up for more information.
Ward 1 Councilor Mary Ann Babinski, who attended Tuesday’s meeting as did Ward 3 Councilor Andrew K. Surprise, said she had also recently attended an environmental conference at UMASS, and found that PFAS exposure is being studied all across the country and around the world. She said there were workshops on it every day. “The message they’re putting out is that people are working on this,” Babinski said, adding that it was also reassuring to learn that there are companies working on mitigation in soil and water.
After the meeting, Clark (WHS 2016), said he plans to make environmental contaminants the focus of his senior thesis next year.

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