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Study to examine long-term health impacts of PFAS in West Michigan

Michigan Radio

Michigan health officials plan to study the potential long-term health effects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exposure on people in four West Michigan communities.

PFAS are a class of industrial chemicals linked to health problems like cancer, and thyroid disease. Known as “forever chemicals” that remain intact in the environment and human bodies for a long time, PFAS are present in substances ranging from firefighting foam to food packaging.

But the science of PFAS and health is still emerging. That’s why the PFAS Exposure and Health Study is launching a five-year effort to examine potential health impacts more closely.

The study, led by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, is recruiting participants from four communities in West Michigan: Parchment and Cooper Township in Kalamazoo County, and Belmont and Rockford in Kent County. Those are areas where historic PFAS contamination is known to have tainted drinking water.

MDHHS says participants will fill out a comprehensive survey, and give blood samples three times over the course of the study. Researchers will examine the samples for PFAS levels, and health markers such as thyroid hormones and cholesterol levels. MDHHS will also test some participants’ drinking water for PFAS.

“Michigan continues to be a leader in PFAS research,” Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said in a statement. “The MiPEHS will provide residents of these communities the opportunity to learn more about PFAS and their levels of exposure and potential health impacts.”

Eligible participants should receive enrollment information by mail later this month. The study runs from 2020-2026, and hopes to recruit as many participants as possible.

MDHHS said it’s also planning another PFAS study in the same communities, in partnership with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Its goal is “understanding the relationship between PFAS exposure and health outcomes among differing populations across the United States,” with data coming from Michigan and six other sites around the country. That study will start enrolling participants in 2021.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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