State Health Department Begins Measuring PFAS Concentrations In Firefighters

May 13, 2021

A study by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services seeks to understand how PFAS chemicals get from firefighting foam into the bloodstreams of firefighters.
Credit Washington state Department of Ecology

Michigan’s state Department of Health and Human Services has begun testing some firefighters for PFAS in their blood.

PFAS is a family of chemicals often used in firefighting foams. They’ve been linked to health problems including cancer and developmental disorders.

The state will enroll hundreds of firefighters in the study -- offering a $25 gift card to encourage participation -- over the next three years.

Priya Shimanani is the lead epidemiologist on the project. She said her team will ask detailed questions to hundreds of firefighters who agree to be in the study.

The questions will cover the firefighters’ job duties and also environmental factors that might contribute to higher PFAS concentrations, like where their drinking water comes from or whether they eat certain packaged foods.

Jennifer Gray, an environmental toxicologist with the health department, said the answers to those questions will help the department find out what types of firefighting tasks are most likely to increase the amount of PFAS in a firefighter’s blood.

“Measuring of an exposure or knowing how much of the chemical people are exposed to, how much they have in their bodies, is an important step in answering questions about what health outcomes could happen,” Gray said.

If the state can find links between certain firefighting activities and higher concentrations of PFAS in the blood, it can make better safety rules to protect firefighters from the chemicals, said Gray.

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