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OEEB Hosts Distinguished Lecturer Kyle Steenland

July 2013 - Linkage Newsletter

by Victoria A. Fisher, M.P.H.

In May, the Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch (OEEB) hosted Dr. Kyle Steenland as a Distinguished Lecturer in Occupational and Environmental Cancer. Dr. Steenland is a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Epidemiology at the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, Georgia. Prior to moving to Emory, he worked for 20 years at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati, Ohio. Dr. Steenland also has worked in France at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and he currently trains researchers in Chile and Peru.

As an environmental and occupational epidemiologist, Dr. Steenland has studied cancer in relation to a variety of occupational agents, including welding, ethylene oxide, diesel fumes, silica, and dioxin; neurologic diseases in relation to pesticide exposure and polychlorinated biphenyls; and heart disease in relation to environmental tobacco smoke, shift work, and work stress. He also has focused on the development of epidemiologic methods. Many of his studies have involved long-term follow-up of large populations to determine disease occurrence.

Dr. Steenland has doctorate degrees in both epidemiology and history and master’s degrees in epidemiology, American studies, and mathematics. He has published more than 170 papers in peer-reviewed medical journals and has edited 2 books on environmental and occupational epidemiology. He also serves as an editor for two journals, Epidemiology and the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

During his DCEG seminar, titled “Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and cancer risk in a highly exposed community living near a chemical plant,” Dr. Steenland discussed his role as a member of the C8 Science Panel, a court-appointed, independent research team selected to determine whether a probable link exists between PFOA (also known as C8) exposure and various diseases in humans, including cancer. The panel was established as part of a community settlement of a class-action lawsuit. Dr. Tony Fletcher of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in England and Dr. David Savitz of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, also were appointed to the panel. The team investigated the possible health consequences of PFOA exposure resulting from contaminated drinking water near a chemical plant in West Virginia.

PFOA is a man-made chemical used in manufacturing certain products, such as non-stick cookware, protective finishes on carpets, and water-resistant clothing. The Environmental Protection Agency considers the chemical to be a likely carcinogen in humans, but scientists have not established its effects on human health. Manufacturers are phasing out the use of PFOA, but it persists indefinitely in the environment, and exposure levels remain steady in the U.S. population.

Following the settlement agreement, an independent company conducted a survey called the C8 Health Project from 2005 to 2006, collecting interviews, questionnaires, and blood samples from about 69,000 people living near the chemical plant in West Virginia. The C8 Science Panel later conducted 11 studies in the mid-Ohio Valley region; many of these studies were based on the participants from the C8 Health Project.

One of the studies, a large cohort investigation, included adult community residents who had resided in contaminated water districts or had worked at the chemical plant in West Virginia. Dr. Steenland and his colleagues reconstructed likely PFOA serum levels from 1950 to 2008 for residents living near the plant and for chemical plant workers. The panel determined that participants with higher exposure to PFOA had greater kidney and testicular cancer incidence than participants with less PFOA exposure.

During his two-day visit, Dr. Steenland participated in several meetings with DCEG scientists led by members of OEEB. Michael C.R. Alavanja, Dr.P.H., hosted a session with the Agricultural Health Study team; Melissa Friesen, Ph.D., led a meeting with the occupational exposure assessment team; Jonathan Hofmann, Ph.D., Stella Koutros, Ph.D., Linda Liao, Ph.D., and Mark Purdue, Ph.D., facilitated a discussion on molecular epidemiology; and Mary H. Ward, Ph.D., hosted a session with the environmental exposure team.

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