Scientists Kick Off Research Center Focused on Cape Cod Drinking Water Contaminants

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HYANNIS – Scientists from the Silent Spring Institute, Harvard University and the University of Rhode Island gathered Monday in Hyannis to kick off a new research center focused on highly fluorinated chemicals, or PFASs.

The STEEP Superfund Program Research Center is a five-year program which will conduct much of its research on the Cape, including testing private wells for PFASs and finding out how they enter the groundwater from firefighting foams.

The program will also field test methods to detect highly fluorinated chemicals in surface waters and engage with residents and local officials to share research and address concerns.

“The focus of the center will be to understand more about how these chemicals move through the environment, how people can be exposed to them and what the health effects of those exposures are,” said Dr. Laurel Schaider, a researcher with the Silent Spring Institute.

This class of chemicals is very complex and it is estimated that there are more than 3,000 highly fluorinated chemicals and polymers that are commonly used.

Researchers have already gathered quite a bit of information about some of these chemicals.

“Some of these have been linked to cancer, development and reproductive toxicity from a thyroid and immune system effects,” Schaider said.

“However, there are other members of this chemical family that are being used more widely now and we have less information about the health effects of those newer chemicals.”

PFASs are a class of chemicals added to consumer products to make them non-stick, waterproof and stain resistant.

“They are also used in firefighting foams and industrial processes,” said Cheryl Osimo, the executive director of the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition and co-founder of Silent Spring.

Osimo said she is excited for the portion of the project that will study the effects of the chemicals in children.

“We need to really get into the details of that,” Osimo said. “And I know that this team brings to the table expertise that can really lead us in the direction to understand how we can hopefully find solutions.”

The STEEP project is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Superfund Research Program.

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