CDC Issues PFAS Guidelines for Doctors to Highlight Possible Cancer, Hypertension and Pregnancy Risks

Federal health officials indicate that ingestion is the most likely route of PFAS exposure, particularly for those who live close to known sources of water contamination.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued new guidance for doctors regarding the testing and treating of patients exposed to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which have contaminated water sources nationwide and may increase the risks for high cholesterol, cancer, and pregnancy-reduced hypertension.

The PFAS Guidelines for Clinicians warn that there is a significant lack of science on the effects of PFAS exposure, and a lack of known medical treatments which can lower the amount of the toxic chemicals in patients’ blood.

PFAS Exposure Health Risks

PFAS include a group of over 9,000 man-made substances that have been widely used for decades, to resist grease, oil and water. They are known to persist in the environment and build up in the human body, and there is growing evidence linking exposure to a myriad of adverse health effects, including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and cancer.

While most of the attention on the chemicals has focused on the use in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which is used to fight fuel-based fires and has resulted in widespread water contamination around military bases, airports and firefighter training locations, PFAS are also found in a number of consumer products, including food containers, bottles and wrappers.

3M Company, DuPont, Chemguard, Inc., Tyco Fire Products and other manufacturers of chemicals and fire safety products have faced a thousands of PFAS water contamination lawsuits brought by local water providers in recent years, as well as injury lawsuits seeking financial compensation for individuals diagnosed with certain types of cancer after regular exposure to the toxic chemicals.

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Exposure to firefighting foam chemicals may result in an increased risk of cancer for firefighters, military and airport personnel.

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CDC PFAS Guidelines for Doctors

The new CDC guidance is based on a June 2022 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which revealed that nearly all U.S. residents have some exposure to PFAS, and the results of that exposure have not been well studied. In addition, the CDC confirms that exposure is often the result of living near facilities that have manufactured, used or handled PFAS.

The CDC warns doctors that ingestion of PFAS is typically linked to ingestion of water, food and dust. Inhalation is not considered a typical route of exposure.

“Health effects potentially associated with PFAS exposure include increases in cholesterol levels, decreases in birth weight, lower antibody response to vaccines, kidney and testicular cancer, pregnancy-induced hypertension, preeclampsia, and changes in liver enzymes,” the guidance states. “An exposure history can help clinicians determine the duration, magnitude, and routes of patients’ PFAS exposures and reveal opportunities for exposure reduction.”

The CPSC recommends doctors consider a patient’s exposure history, results from PFAS testing of the patients’ water, food supply, and environment, and whether they believe the patients’ exposure can be reduced and their health improved when deciding whether to order PFAS testing.

The report includes extensive information on various PFAS blood levels of concern, based on what is known of different compounds, and which PFAS have been linked to which types of adverse health effects. Most of the known adverse health effects have been linked to Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

However, the CDC notes that there are no approved medical treatments currently available to reduce PFAS levels in the body.

PFAS Injury Lawsuits

Manufacturers of the chemicals now face thousands of PFAS cancer lawsuits being pursued by individuals throughout the U.S., which may just be the tip of a litigation iceberg, as more information is learned about the long-term health risks associated with exposure to the toxic chemicals.

In 2022, the U.S. Department of Defense conducted an assessment of PFAS contamination on U.S. military bases, indicating 24 installations, with a total population of 175,000, exposed residents to PFAS in drinking water. However, some environmental groups have contested that number, saying at least 116 military instillations are contaminated, exposing more than 640,000 residents to toxic AFFF and PFAS.

Although the manufacturers have reached proposed settlement over damages sustained by local water suppliers, who have been left with the costs associated with cleaning up the toxic chemicals, there have been no settlements in PFAS injury lawsuits brought by individuals exposed to the chemicals through drinking water, or firefighters directly exposed through AFFF foam.

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