Third-generation dairy farmer Fred Stone pauses before forking up a load of hay for one of the few remaining cows on his spread in Arundel on Friday, April 15, 2022. Stone was forced to slaughter most of his herd after finding high levels of PFAS "forever" chemicals on his land in 2016. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Anyone with a history of exposure to forever chemicals should be tested for levels of the toxins in their blood, according to a report released today by a national research group.

The report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is the first to establish who should be tested for PFAS in their bodies and is the strongest indication to date that longtime exposure to the toxins that accumulate in the blood is directly connected to certain types of cancers, lower antibodies and pregnancy complications. But there remain questions over how much contaminated food or water people have to consume to reach those dangerous levels. 

The report said the tests should be offered by medical providers to patients who live or work in areas that are known to be contaminated with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS. They are also referred to as forever chemicals because of how long they take to break down in the environment and in the human body.

The report found sufficient evidence of association between PFAS exposure and decreased antibody response, abnormally high cholesterol, decreased infant and fetal growth, and increased risk of kidney cancer.

It goes on to recommend that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention use a benchmark of a PFAS blood concentration of more than 2 nanograms per milliliter. Patients at or above those levels should receive regular health screenings and monitoring.

The report is based on a study conducted by the Committee on Guidance on PFAS Testing and Health Outcomes.

The report recommends those with jobs that exposed them to the toxins, who lived in areas with documented contamination and those who have lived where contamination may have occurred — including near facilities that use or have used fluorochemicals, commercial airports, military bases, wastewater treatment plants, farms where sewage sludge may have been used, or landfills or incinerators that have received waste containing PFAS — have their bodies tested for the toxins.

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The Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental and Geographic Analysis Database maintains and updates a map of sites potentially at risk for dangerous levels of PFAS.

According to the report, the research has yet to determine the exact PFAS exposure level that creates a specific health concern. But it does indicate there are complications associated with varying levels of exposure.

“There is sufficient evidence of association between exposure to PFAS and increased risk of decreased antibody response in adults and children, [abnormally high cholesterol]  in adults and children, decreased infant and fetal growth and kidney cancer in adults,” according to a statement by the The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

It goes on to say there is “limited or suggestive evidence” that PFAS exposure creates an increased risk for breast cancer, liver problems, pregnancy-induced hypertension, increased risk of testicular cancer in adults, thyroid disease and dysfunction in adults and increased risk of ulcerative colitis in adults.

Anyone testing between two and 20 nanograms per milliliter could face those health issues, according to the report, and it recommends doctors encourage their patients to reduce their exposure to the toxic chemicals. These patents should also prioritize screenings for the PFAS-related health issues.

Last month the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a nonbinding health advisory that lowered its health risk thresholds for lifetime exposure to PFAS chemicals to near zero — an amount too small to even measure with current technology.

The previous EPA levels, set in 2016, were 70 parts per trillion for each. Here in Maine, the current threshold for PFAS in drinking water is 20 parts per trillion, while milk is 210 parts per trillion and beef is 3.4 parts per billion.


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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.