Lab Matters Winter 2019 - Page 4

PRESIDENT & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR’S MESSAGE PFAS: An Emerging Threat That Raises Familiar Technological Issues Scott: Recently there was a lot of news media about the subject of our winter Lab Matters feature, PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). Apparently, it is in Glide dental floss! Joanne: They even find it in polar bears. Scott: Hasn’t PFAS been an issue in Minnesota? There are literally tens of thousands of chemicals that no one tests for. And these substances are released into the environment every day.” Joanne Bartkus, President, APHL Joanne: Yes. Minnesota was early in the PFAS business because 3M—originally Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company—is based in our state, with headquarters in St. Paul and manufacturing plants in a few different locations. Some years ago, 3M discarded PFAS—originally, we called them PFCs (perfluorinated chemicals)—in a landfill, and they leached into the groundwater. The state public health laboratory was really instrumental in helping to map the plume in the groundwater and in testing the filters the public water supplies used to get the chemicals out of the water. Around 2007, the Minnesota legislature passed a bill mandating that the state department of health do some biomonitoring studies, including a pilot study to assess the PFAS exposure of residents in the Twin Cities East Metro area, where PFAS had contaminated the groundwater. We developed methods and did a study that ran for at least a year. We found that blood levels of PFAS corresponded with the time individuals had lived in the East Metro area and presumably consumed PFAS in the water. Overall, PFAS levels were elevated above the levels in NHANES (CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey). A couple years later, we thought we were done, and the legislature directed us to do another study. Again, we found elevated PFAS levels, but less than before. In fact, they were coming down at a rate consistent with the half-life of the chemicals. 2 LAB MATTERS Winter 2019 When it comes to health risk, we still don’t know the long-term effects of PFAS exposure. But it is reassuring to the people who live in East Metro to know the intervention is working, and their blood levels are coming down. Scott: But there are other sources of exposure as well. Joanne: PFAS are ubiquitous. They are in many different consumer products. And they’ve even been found in breast milk and umbilical cord blood. After concerns were raised about the original chemicals, manufacturers came up with the next generation of these substances, and we have even fewer tests to detect and measure those. Scott: I understand the testing is very expensive. Joanne: The levels at which people want to detect these chemicals is so low now that you need special instrumentation to do it. And we have no dedicated funding mechanism to buy new instruments. Although we are lucky to have legislative support for this work, it’s just not enough for new equipment. Both the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Health want our laboratory to do PFAS testing, but neither can afford to buy us new instruments. So commercial laboratories are stepping in. Having been leaders in developing the methods and assessing the problem, we would like to maintain the capability and capacity to do the testing. Scott: This is definitely an area that falls within the purview of state public health and environmental laboratories. And the problem, if anything, seems to be growing. Or maybe the public is just becoming more aware of it? Joanne: I would say both. There are literally tens of thousands of chemicals that no one tests for. And these substances are released into the environment every day. Fortunately, PublicHealthLabs @APHL APHL.org