The sun sets behind the control tower of the former Loring Air Force Base, Saturday, July 18, 2020, in Limestone, Maine. The Air Force plans to test multiple sites at the former Loring Air Force Base for contamination by so-called forever chemicals. Credit: David Sharp / AP

PFAS — also called “forever chemicals” because of how slowly they break down in the environment — have been linked to another health concern for women.

Middle-aged women with higher blood concentrations of seven of the most commonly detected PFAS are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure, or hypertension, according to a  study released by the American Heart Association.

The study followed 1,000 women who were part of the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation-Multi-Pollutant Study from 1999 to 2017 from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and who all had normal blood pressure at the start of the study. The women were between 45 and 56 years old. By 2017, 470 participants had developed high blood pressure.

Why it matters: This is the latest development in how PFAS harm people who ingest them. The study found that the women with the top-third highest concentrations of all seven PFAS had a 71 percent increased risk of developing hypertension. Previously, PFAS had already been linked to liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression and cancer.

Essential background: Maine is reckoning with PFAS contamination in everything from drinking water and farm soil to freshwater fish and wild deer. Much of the PFAS contamination in Maine is traced back to the practice of spreading sludge on farmland starting in the 1970s and 1980s, when it was pitched as a cost-effective way to improve soil fertility and a way to get rid of waste products for local sewage treatment plants and paper companies.

Key Quote: “We have known for some time that PFAS disrupts metabolism in the body, yet, we didn’t expect the strength of the association we found. We hope that these findings alert clinicians about the importance of PFAS and that they need to understand and recognize PFAS as an important potential risk factor for blood pressure control,” said study senior author Sung Kyun Park, an associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

What’s next: The study was limited in that it only included middle-aged women, so the findings may not translate to men or to younger or older women. The authors note that more research is needed to confirm these associations and to address ways to reduce PFAS exposure.

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.