Read the full article by Isabella Raponi, Phil Brown and Alissa Cordner (EHN)

“When people learn they are exposed to toxic chemicals, they wonder what it means for their health and often want to take protective action.

We’ve heard this in our conversations with residents of PFAS-affected communities, and in their public talks—calls for medical screening to learn about potential effects on their own and their families’ health. However, people exposed to PFAS often face significant hurdles in getting screened for health effects from the exposure. And that needs to change.

PFAS compounds (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a class of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals that are in the drinking water of an estimated 200 million U.S. residents. PFAS are especially concerning because, in the words of former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Dr. Linda Birnbaum, they impact ‘development and reproduction and pretty much almost every system that you can think of.’

Scientists continue to learn more about the harmful impacts to human health, regulators in some states are taking action aimed at reducing exposure including through drinking water and food packaging limits, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is prioritizing PFAS policy, such as through the creation of a new ‘EPA Council on PFAS.’ However, there are still major gaps in translating knowledge about health effects linked to PFAS exposure into clinical guidance. As we learned with the lead crisis, meaningful public health protection must go beyond the removal of exposure, to include medical surveillance for those exposed because it can identify health effects and diseases early enough for treatment, which in some cases saves lives.

The importance of medical screening for PFAS

Medical screening is the testing for early signs of disease. For people who have elevated exposure to PFAS, screening for conditions associated with PFAS exposure may allow for early identification of indicators of disease.

‘Medical screening is designed for earlier detection of disease, including biomarkers of disease processes, that can lead to earlier intervention and diminish the effects of exposure,’ Dr. Alan Ducatman, a physician, PFAS expert, and retired professor of occupational medicine, said.

In the case of PFAS, exposure is linked to a wide range of health conditions, including liver and kidney effects, damage to the immune system, several types of cancer, thyroid effects, reproductive harm, and developmental abnormalities…”