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State health dept. is launching Michigan PFAS Exposure and Health Study

A rusty barrel in the woods
Bryce Huffman

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is signing up eligible residents of four West Michigan communities for a study of the potential long term health impacts of exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water. The study is called the Michigan PFAS Exposure and Health Study (MiPEHS).

PFAS are a family of industrial chemicals linked to health problems.

The study is recruiting residents of four West Michigan communities who may have been exposed to various levels of PFAS in their drinking water between 2005 and 2018.

The study is looking at Parchment and Cooper Township in Kalamazoo County and the Belmont and Rockland areas of Kent County. These are areas where PFAS contamination has been found in drinking water.

The study, which runs from 2020 to 2026, aims to identify links between levels of PFAS in blood and health outcomes over time.

Another goal is to ensure that emerging PFAS health information is made available to those exposed to PFAS, as well as to their health care providers.

"Participants can contribute to something really big here and help shape the scientific understanding of PFAS," said Jordan Bailey, the lead toxicologist for PFAS Health Studies at MDHHS.

Bailey said participants will learn their own PFAS blood levels.

"They will also add to scientific knowledge about PFAS and its potiential effects on people's health and add to the understanding of one's community's exposure to PFAS," Bailey said.

According to MDHHS,  participants will complete an individual and household survey of  health histories and the various ways they may have been exposed to PFAS. They will also be asked to give blood samples three times during the life of the study.

"Anyone eligible can join at any time. But this design is really at its most powerful if participants come to all three study office visits," said Bailey. "Also we will be able to draw the most meaningful conclusions if thousands of people join."

Bailey said the study is trying to recruit as many eligible people as possible.

"We are currently in the process of sending out direct mailings to all people in the study areas that we believe may be eligible," said Bailey. "So we've already sent out several hundred of these mailings. But in total, we'll send out around 4,000 direct mailings to people in these study areas and that'll occur in the coming weeks."

Bailey said just over 130 people have signed up for the study so far.

According to Bailey, MDHHS  does not have other PFAS health studies planned elsewhere in the state. But she said the information gained from this health study will have real benefits for understanding exposures in other locations.

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Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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