From the Bucks County Courier Times
Undergoing a routine medical test and then waiting by the phone for the results can be a nerve-wracking experience. Now, imagine asking your doctors to test your blood for mysterious chemicals they’ve never heard of, finding a lab to draw the blood, another lab to test it and waiting more than a month to get the results -- and still not knowing quite what to make of them.
That’s been the reality for several residents of Bucks and Montgomery counties (in Pennsylvania) who have had their blood tested for the unregulated chemicals PFOA and PFOS.
The chemicals, linked by many studies to health effects ranging from cancer to low birth weight, have been found in the drinking water of at least 70,000 area residents. Tests of public water supplies have detected the chemicals in amounts that greatly exceed recommended safety limits and rank among the highest found anywhere in the country.
While there have been some conversations among government agencies about offering wide-scale blood testing programs for exposed residents, there has been no official action to date.
There are only a handful of laboratories in North America that can test blood for PFOA and PFOS. One of those is NMS Labs
in Upper Moreland's Willow Grove section, which offers a test for PFOA, but is developing a full panel that will include PFOS and other related perfluorinated compounds.
"It is a very challenging test," said Robert Middleberg
, vice president of quality assurance for NMS. "These are complex compounds that are chemically — for us as chemists or toxicologists — very challenging to analyze for. "
PFOS is typically found in much higher levels than PFOA locally, prompting NMS to recommend residents wait for the full panel, which Middleberg said could be ready sometime in the next six months to a year.
"They can go to their doctor and get the PFOA
done and we'd be happy to do it here," Middleberg said. "(But) if it comes back 'none detected' and they were not looking for these other (related chemicals) ... they may have a false sense of security that, 'Oh, I'm clean, I don't have any PFOA in me.' But they may be loaded with PFOS."
If residents don't want to wait until the full panel is ready, Middleberg said NMS recommends residents get the "low-level" serum or plasma test
for PFOA, which costs $298. That test can detect PFOA down to 2 ppb, lower than the lab's other PFOA test, which is designed for workers who are exposed to the chemical on the job and only detects down to 10 ppb.
There is one caveat: the human body naturally eliminates perfluorinated compounds at a rate of about 50 percent every two to nine years, depending on the chemical and the individual. That means the longer people wait for testing, the less they are to likely to receive a result that accurately shows how much of the chemicals had accumulated in their blood.