Read the full article by Courtney Carignan, Esmé Getto, Phil Brown, Laurel Schaider, Andrea Amico, Emily Donovan, and Alissa Cordner (Environmental Health News)
“When communities impacted by PFAS contamination seek medical advice, they often discover doctors are unfamiliar with these chemicals health effects and unsure how to address their patients’ concerns.
A report released in July and new courses for medical professionals aim to change that. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report recommends offering per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, blood testing to individuals likely to have had elevated exposure and prioritizes certain types of medical screening for affected individuals. In addition, in October 2022, our team launched a free Continuing Medical Education course, initiated by and including perspectives from community activists, along with a Clinician Resources webpage on the PFAS Exchange.
These recommendations and resources are urgent: PFAS—used to impart stain, water, grease and heat-resistance to many common consumer products—are persistent in the environment and our bodies and have likely impacted the drinking water of more than 200 million Americans. PFAS have been linked to far-ranging health effects, including high cholesterol, immune suppression, thyroid disease and cancer.
Our aim to increase the medical community’s knowledge and resources in addressing PFAS is gaining traction. These efforts are part of a growing recognition of the need for more health professional education and guidance on health implications of PFAS exposure, obtaining and interpreting PFAS blood testing and improving patient care.
PFAS testing can save lives
The importance of clinician education regarding PFAS is demonstrated in the lives of those affected by these chemicals. Michigan resident Sandy Wynn-Stelt learned in 2017 that she and her late husband Joel had consumed highly contaminated water for over a decade prior to his fatal liver cancer diagnosis. Her quest for answers led her to get tests — both her blood and her private well had extremely high levels. She shared her test results with her doctor along with information about PFAS health effects. This information likely saved her life: Wynn-Stelt’s physician monitored her health and was able to make an early diagnosis of thyroid cancer based on the results of her PFAS blood test and other information.
Similarly, Ayesha Khan became concerned about PFAS after her firefighter husband Nate Barber was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2019 and she learned that PFAS exposure is a risk factor for the condition. PFAS contamination was discovered in groundwater near the Nantucket Airport close to their home around that time and she was additionally concerned to learn that firefighters are exposed to PFAS from firefighting foam, as well as their protective gear. In 2020, she and her close friend Jaime Honkawa founded the Nantucket PFAS Action Group, a community organization that educates firefighters and the public about the risks of PFAS — and helps them take protective action.
Our new course was prompted by a request from the Nantucket Cottage Hospital to the Nantucket PFAS Action Group to develop training for their medical professionals about PFAS exposure. The Nantucket PFAS Action Group worked with the PFAS-REACH collaborative team and the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit to develop the course.
Released this October through Children’s Mercy Hospital, the course features both scientific experts as well as people who’ve experienced contamination. It was designed to be useful to all health professionals, and especially those in PFAS-impacted areas or whose patients have been occupationally or otherwise exposed. It can be accessed via the Children’s Mercy Hospital website or on the Clinician Resources page of the PFAS Exchange website.” …