Doctors should screen millions of Americans for toxic chemicals forever, the nation’s top scientific advisory body urges in a new report reflecting growing concerns about unregulated compounds being added to clothing, food packaging and household products.
A panel of researchers organized by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded that pregnant women and other sensitive groups should be screened for breast cancer, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure when the amount of permanent chemicals in the blood exceeds 2 parts per billion, equivalent to a couple of drops of water in a pool.
All Americans with more than 20 ppb in their blood should also be screened for signs of other diseases, including thyroid disorders, kidney and testicular cancer, and ulcerative colitis, panel members said Thursday in their recommendations towards Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new guidelines for the nation’s doctors came the same week that another group of researchers estimated that exposure to eternal chemicals, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS – could cost the current American population nearly $63 billion in hidden health costs.
There are more than 9,000 PFASs, of which about 600 are currently in commerce, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. The chemicals have been widely used for decades in firefighting foam and to make products like nonstick cookware , stain-repellent mats, waterproof jackets, and fast-food wrappers that repel oil and grease.
Blood tests are recommended for anyone exposed at work or who has lived in communities with documented sources of PFAS contamination. Others are advised to get tested if they have lived near airports, military bases, sewage treatment plants, or farms where sewage sludge may have been used as fertilizer. Living near a landfill or waste incinerator also increases your risk of chemical exposure forever, according to the panel of national academies.
Based on the latest human and animal research, “we feel that the closer to 2 (parts per billion) people are less likely to have adverse health effects, and the closer to 20 (ppb) the more likely,” Ned said. Calonge, chair of the panel and a physician, epidemiologist, and associate professor of family medicine at the University of Colorado.
The CDC determined in the late 2000s that forever chemicals are in the blood of virtually every American. But routine tests remain rare. Most people don’t know how much PFAS is circulating in their circulatory system, unless they work for chemical manufacturers that routinely monitor employees.
Two of the most widely detected permanent chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), are so dangerous that they effectively no safe level of exposure in drinking water, the EPA announced in June.
An ongoing investigation by the Chicago Tribune revealed this month that more than 8 million people in Illinois, 6 out of 10 people in the state, get their drinking water from a public service where at least one chemical has been detected forever. PFOA and PFOS are in the water of almost every community where testing by the Illinois EPA found the chemicals.
“It is likely that the entire US population is overexposed to these toxic PFAS,” he said. david andrew, a senior scientist at Environmental Working Groupa nonprofit research organization that has championed federal regulations since the early 2000s. “Physicians should advise their patients to reduce their exposure to these permanent chemicals as much as possible—a difficult feat, since They are ubiquitous.”
It will almost certainly take time and considerable debate before testing people for PFAS becomes commonplace.
Spokespeople for Northwestern Medicine and the University of Chicago Medicine said they were not aware of any doctors in their networks who were testing patients for the chemicals. The Chicago-based American Medical Association did not respond to a request for comment.
During public forums the National Academy of Sciences held across the country last year, several participants said doctors scoffed when asked about PFAS testing.
“Clearly, they didn’t have any information on the environmental components (of the disease),” a Pennsylvania woman said at one of the forums. “They made me feel small; they made me feel stupid and embarrassed for even asking the question.”
One of the leading manufacturers of PFAS, Minnesota-based 3M has known since 1975 that chemicals have always been found in blood banks in the United States, according to industry records uncovered during the trials.
Regulators and the public were kept in the dark until 1998, when a 3M executive reported to the US EPA for the first time The PFAS used to make the company’s Scotchgard coatings, and the Teflon made by DuPont, accumulate in human blood, take years to leave the body, and do not break down in the environment.
PFOA and PFOS are no longer manufactured in the US. In a statement, a 3M spokesperson said the levels of PFAS found in the environment pose no risk to humans.
However, based on what researchers are discovering, chemicals that 3M, DuPont and other manufacturers released into the air, water and land for more than 70 years could endanger public health for decades to come. Some of the PFOA and PFOS replacements are just as dangerous, if not more so, according to studies.
A team of researchers from New York University estimated the costs of exposure to PFOA and PFOS connecting the most scientifically rigorous disease studies into a computer model that calculates the price of health care and lost wages due to disease.
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They based the lower end of their estimates ($5.5 billion) on the strongest links between exposure and disease. When they added research suggesting other health damage from forever chemicals, the projected cost jumped to $62.6 billion.
“This is a giant uncontrolled experiment on the public,” Leo Trasande, a researcher at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and the study’s lead author, said of the spread of PFAS around the world.
The two new studies did not answer who pays for the tests, treatment and cleaning.
Cincinnati attorney Rob Bilott has already won PFAS legal settlements against DuPont in Ohio and West Virginia. He is now among a group of trial lawyers suing 3M, DuPont and other manufacturers in an effort to force the companies to pay for medical monitoring of every American exposed to chemicals forever.
In March, a federal judge limited the case to Ohioans with a specific number of chemicals in their blood, which alone could include as many as 11 million people. The chemical companies are appealing the decision.
“The public, those of us exposed to these poisons for decades without our knowledge and consent, should not bear the cost of public health impacts when we already know exactly which companies caused this problem,” Bilott said in an email. “It is high time to hold accountable those responsible for the public health disaster they have caused.”