At home PFAS test kits will let private individuals test the level of forever chemicals in their own bodies. Credit: Courtesy of EmpowerDX

If you’re wondering if the forever chemicals being detected in Maine’s groundwater, soil and wildlife are finding their way into your body, there’s an easy way for you to find out.

The California-based laboratory EmpowerDX offers an  at-home screening test designed to measure the levels of 40 different per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances — commonly known as PFAS — in human blood.

The tests cost $399 and can allegedly detect the chemicals with 99 percent confidence. If a sample can’t be tested with that level of confidence, it will be rejected for testing, according to the company’s medical director.

The test is not designed to detect any specific health issues. Instead, it could be used as a screening or diagnostic tool to compare an individual’s results with median PFAS levels established through U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sampling. Your health care provider can use those results to determine if you are at risk for any of the diseases that have been linked to PFAS exposure.

Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a nonbinding health advisory stating that levels considered safe for human health are so low, there is no current technology to measure them.

“There has been no normal accepted level of PFAS set by the CDC,” said Dr. Travis Wilkes, medical director at EmposerDX. “In reality, ‘normal’ should be zero, so what we use as a benchmark is the median level of PFAS found in the human body through sampling done by the CDC.”

Those levels range from 1.1 micrograms per liter of human blood to 4.3 micrograms per liter, depending on the type of chemical.

“Our results let you compare yourself to the median levels,” Wilkes said.

Blood testing for PFAS is not a regular test offered by doctors or health departments. Tests can cost up to $600, according to the U.S. CDC.

“They can be difficult to get since you can’t just walk into a doctor’s office and get one,” Wilkes said.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has no information regarding the EmpowerDX test’s reliability, how its results are communicated and whether the tests are covered by insurance, spokesperson Robert Long said. 

Long added that a forthcoming report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is expected to address whether and when blood tests for PFAS are advisable.

PFAS have been detected in private wells, on farmland and in groundwater throughout Maine, and have been linked to health problems such as kidney cancer and thyroid disease.

People can also be exposed to the toxic chemicals through contact with grease-resistant paper used to wrap fast foods, water resistant clothing, cleaning products and stain-resistant materials.

EmpowerDX’s at-home PFAS test meets standards established by the CDC, Wilkes said, and requires pricking your finger to extract a small amount of capillary blood using a testing kit from the company.

The test kit materials themselves are certified PFAS-free to avoid any cross-contamination with the submitted blood samples.

That blood is sent to an EmpowerDX lab and you receive the results 10 days later, according to Wilkes.

Those results are also useful in determining what you should look out for with regards to your own health, much like knowing family history of cancer, he said.

“We know there are diseases that have been linked to PFAS exposure and if you know you have high levels you can take early action,” Wilkes said. “That could mean earlier screenings for different types of cancer or thyroid conditions.”

The earlier these diseases are caught, he said, the better the treatment options and prognosis.

“It’s all about putting those things on the radar,” Wilkes said. “You get a better idea of your own risks.”

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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.