CDC urges more blood testing for PFAS chemicals

The CDC on Jan. 18 issued updated guidance for clinicians regarding exposure to per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, urging them to consider a patient's individual history and possible exposure to the chemicals and to order blood tests as needed to detect both recent and past exposures.

These chemicals, also called PFAS, are found in drinking water and used in everything from non-stick cooking pans, to shampoo and dental floss. But exposure to high concentrations can cause chronic health conditions like high cholesterol, kidney and testicular cancer, pregnancy-induced hypertension, decreased vaccine response and more. 

Blood testing can help inform patients and providers about PFAS-related conditions and confirm if they have had any toxic exposure that could be causing the onset of the chronic symptoms, according to the CDC. 

Detecting PFAS chemical exposure via "systematic, community-wide blood testing" can also help inform health officials about the levels of toxic chemical exposure happening in a certain area, the CDC says. 

Blood contains the accepted biomarker of exposure to PFAS — nicknamed "forever chemicals" because they are "unavoidable" and "nearly indestructible" as the National Resources Defense Council puts it. This testing "can enable public health officials to investigate and respond to community-wide exposures," the CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry notes in the updated guidance, adding that the "results from these tests can assess the types and blood levels of PFAS in the community." 

While the blood tests won't be appropriate in all patient cases as needs can vary, the guidance to increase ordering of these tests is primarily intended for individuals who have concerns about exposure to these toxic chemicals. 

"We've learned more and more in recent years about how exposures to PFAS may increase risk for many diseases," Aaron Bernstein, MD, the director of CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry told ABC News.

Around 90% of individuals are exposed to PFAS chemicals, he added. 

The CDC guidance notes, however, that blood tests don't identify the source of exposure, don't indicate whether a current illness can be attributed to PFAS exposure and do not predict future health outcomes. The CDC also notes that there are no approved treatments to remove PFAS from the body.

The guidance comes amid recent reports published Jan. 8 in PNAS by researchers at Columbia University in New York City and Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., which found that humans may be consuming between 10 and 100 times more microplastics than initially thought — from water bottles alone.

At this time, there are no approved medical treatments to remove PFAS chemicals from the body.

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