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Persistent Pollutants

PFAS testing needed for those with high exposure

US National Academies says people with elevated PFAS levels should be monitored for adverse health outcomes

by Andrea Widener
August 19, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 29


People who have been exposed to high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at work or home should receive regular blood testing and monitoring for adverse health effects, according to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

PFAS exposure is associated with decreased antibody response, abnormally high cholesterol, decreased infant and fetal growth, and increased risk of kidney cancer, the report says. More limited evidence links PFAS to breast and testicular cancer, thyroid dysfunction, liver problems, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and ulcerative colitis.

Patients with a blood concentration over 20 ng/mL of seven widely detected PFAS, combined, are at the highest risk of adverse health effects; those with between 2 and 20 ng/mL face some risk, the report says. Physicians should encourage patients to be screened for the associated health conditions.

More research is needed to determine how PFAS affect pregnant people and children under 12, the report says. In the meantime, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should update its guidelines for medical professionals and create guidance to help exposed individuals.

“We are going to need robust and effective collaboration between local communities, states, and federal agencies in order to respond to the challenge of PFAS exposure,” says Ned Calonge, associate professor at the University of Colorado, Denver, and chair of the committee that wrote the report.


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