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Groundbreaking studies on 'forever chemicals' ramping up

Studies could provide key data on the health impact of PFAS, but more participants are needed

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Andrea Amico remembers learning her family had been exposed to toxic chemicals. 

"Feeling really upset that my family was exposed and not knowing what that could mean for their health," Amico said.

Her husband and two older children drank the water contaminated with PFAS chemicals at Pease Tradeport, at work, and at daycare. 

But nearly seven years later, she is no closer to finding out the long-term effects on her family's health.

"I still don't have any more answers," Amico said. "I think I have a lot more worry as the science does continue to evolve around PFAS."

The so-called 'forever chemicals,' which take years to break down, were in the firefighting foam used in training exercises at the former Air Force base. The chemicals seeped into the water supply for decades. 

 Amico, along with other moms, started an advocacy group, Testing for Pease. They fought for years for a first-in-the-nation federal health study, which is being conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

After being put on hold during the pandemic, the study resumed recruiting patients in October of 2020. Researchers are looking for childn and adults who drank the water at Pease between 2004 and 2014. Participants need to call and schedule blood and health screenings. Children must also undergo neurobehavioral assessments.

Federal health experts hope to recruit 1,000 adults and 350 children. So far, a little more than 500 adults and 92 kids have signed up.  About 200 children and adults who were not exposed also are needed. 

A separate study also delayed by the pandemic is resuming, possibly next month. The PFAS Reach Study, conducted by the non-profit Silent Spring Institute, is looking for 60 kids whose moms worked at Pease for at least a year before June 2014 and drank the water while pregnant or breastfeeding. The study will focus on determining whether the industrial compound makes early childhood vaccines less effective. 

"Children who have had higher PFAS exposures may have lower levels of antibodies in response to routine vaccination," said Dr. Laurel Schaider, the lead researcher of the PFAS Reach Study.

Blood samples and other screenings for the PFAS Reach Study will be conducted at Portsmouth Regional Hospital.

Neither study will follow families long term, but both will provide key research for what has become a national issue. 

"It's going to help millions of Americans across the county better understand the health impacts of PFAS," Amico said. 

To sign up for the PFAS Reach Study, click here

For more information on how to participate in the PFAS Health Study being conducted by the ATSDR, click here

Information on PFAS chemicals and other important facts are available from the Centers for Disease Control.

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