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PFAS: New guidance recommended for people exposed to 'forever chemicals'

Recommendations include blood testing for people with current or present exposure to better monitor possible health concerns.

MAINE, Maine — Recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are giving Maine doctors better tools to care for people who have been exposed to PFAS chemicals.

Dr. Rachel Criswell is a family practitioner at Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan.

About a dozen patients on her caseload have elevated levels of the toxic compounds known as PFAS in their blood, but monitoring their health has been challenging.

"It was really hard to understand what level of PFAS should we be concerned about," Criswell said. 

Some of her patients are from the Fairfield area, where residents have some of the highest levels of the chemicals in their blood and drinking water, not only in Maine but across the country.    

Previously, federal health officials did not recommend blood testing, because the majority of the U.S. population is believed to have some level of PFAS. 

Exposure to the chemicals, which take years to break down, has been linked to a number of health issues, from organ cancers to thyroid problems and low birth weight in newborns. 

National Academies recommend blood testing for people with current or present exposure needed to better monitor possible health concerns. Elevated levels, trigger recommended screenings for adults and children.

"It also includes thyroid testing for adults, it includes screening for kidney cancer, ulcerative colitis, additional cholesterol screen for children," Dr. Criswell explained. 

Dr. Abby Fleisch is a pediatric endocrinologist at Maine Medical Center. She is working to help educate primary care doctors about the new recommendations. But she said there is no lab capacity for PFAS blood testing, and it is out of reach for many patients. 

"The ability for a provider to order a PFAS test is limited in Maine, and insurance doesn't always cover the test or only covers part of the test," Dr. Fleisch explained.

The cost of a blood serum test for PFAS can be $300 to $600 and is the focus of a pending bill before lawmakers. 

LD 132, sponsored by Sen. Stacy Brenner, D-Scarborough, would require all Maine insurance carriers to cover the testing. 

PFAS contamination from the spreading wastewater biosolids forced Fred Stone's century-old dairy farm to shut down operations more than five years ago.  

"My son and my daughter are more affected by this than we are because they were poisoned, if you want to call it that, when they were adolescents," Stone said. 

Living with high levels of the chemicals is a ticking time bomb, but he and his family are grateful for the blood testing bill and new PFAS guidance he said he believes is long overdue. 

The new guidance also recommends that patients limit potential exposure to chemicals, by using recommended water filtration systems. For a list of water filtration systems from the National Science Foundation, go here.


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