Giving people at high risk of exposure to PFAS the ability to easily self-test could improve access to testing for these “forever chemicals” and lead to the early detection of harmful health problems, according to a study. new study from Michigan State University. The study tested an improved approach for people to collect their own blood samples to test for PFAS without being part of an academic study.
PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, is a class of more than 9,000 chemicals widely used to produce industrial and consumer products. They are commonly known as “forever chemicals” due to their extreme persistence in both the environment and the human body, where they can remain for many years.
For individuals with increased exposure, either through drinking water or occupational hazards, early detection of elevated PFAS blood levels may lead to exposure reduction and medical screening to protect against associated liver, kidney, and thyroid damage; immune system; reproduction and development; and the risk of various cancers.
Interventions are especially important to protect infants, children and pregnant women, as PFAS build up in the body throughout life, cross the placenta and accumulate in the fetus and pass into breast milk. They have been linked to a wide variety of health effects, including high cholesterol, various cancers, infertility and low birth weight.
In addition, PFAS have contaminated the drinking water of millions of Americans, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed enforceable drinking water standards for six types of PFAS.
“People with drinking water contamination often want to know their PFAS blood levels, but struggle to access blood draws and testing,” said Courtney Carignan, assistant professor in MSU’s Colleges of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Veterinary Medicine and lead author of the study. . “Blood test results can be used to document exposure, compare to levels in the general population, inform exposure reduction, and implement health protection measures.”
Published in Environmental science and technologythe authors examined exposure to PFAS measured by self-collection of blood using both the new fingerstick and traditional blood collection methods in 53 people with a history of PFAS drinking water contamination.
The participants first provided a sample of blood collected through a blood draw and then pricked their finger with a lancet — commonly used for blood testing in diabetics — to collect a precise amount of blood onto a new sampler. The blood samples were analyzed by the Eurofins laboratory for 45 specific PFAS varieties, five of which were found frequently enough in the samples for comparison.
In the analyses, the authors reported similar detection rates and high correlations between the two approaches.
“The results indicate that the new approach may work just as well as the traditional approach in our highly exposed population,” Carignan said. “Since the traditional approach uses the serum component of blood and our new approach relies on whole blood, we also confirmed an estimated 2:1 ratio of PFASs in serum compared to whole blood.”
“In addition, we found that the whole blood approach can provide a more comprehensive picture of the PFAS in our blood, including compounds such as FOSA,” said Christopher Higgins of the Colorado School of Mines and a co-author of the study. FOSA, technically known as perfluorooctane sulfonamide, is a PFAS that was detected in approximately half of the whole blood samples, but not in any of the serum samples.
While the authors concluded that the new approach holds promise, they cautioned users to ensure they collect themselves correctly and use sufficiently sensitive analytical methods. Also, proper conversion must be applied when comparing to levels in serum, which some laboratories such as Eurofins will do, but others will not. The authors reported that simply multiplying the whole blood concentration by two gives a good estimate of the serum equivalent. Carignan also noted that future studies should test the new approach in the general population before it is widely adopted in PFAS exposure and health research.
“The ability to use a fingerstick device to measure exposure to PFAS opens up new research avenues, and most importantly, allows people in the general public to test their own blood without having to participate in an academic study, said co-author and environmental chemist, Heather Stapleton, Duke University.
Study authors include Courtney Carignan and Rachel Bauer of MSU; Andrew Patterson, Thep Phomsopha and Eric Redman of Eurofins Environment Testing; Heather Stapleton of Duke University; and Christopher Higgins of the Colorado School of Mines.
Courtney C. Carignan et al, Self-Collection Blood Test for PFASs: Comparing Volumetric Microsamplers with a Traditional Serum Approach, Environmental science and technology (2023). DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.2c09852
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