Doctors could soon start testing their patients’ blood for cancer-causing ‘forever chemicals’ following new advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The new guidance from the federal agency is not meant to determine whether Americans have PFAS in their blood – numerous studies have already shown 98 percent of Americans do – rather, the CDC hopes the blood tests will give healthcare providers a better sense of how widespread the problem is and how they can best help people minimize their risk. 

PFAS are known as ‘forever chemicals’- because they don’t break down and stay in the body for years. Once there, they enter the blood stream and damage organs. 

The microplastics have been used in a variety of industries since the 1930s and since then have become ubiquitous, lining the insides of water bottles, contaminating food, giving cookware its non-stick quality and keeping stains off clothes and carpets. 

Bottle or tap? PFAS chemicals are ubiquitous in tap and bottled water because they line the insides of packaging

Bottle or tap? PFAS chemicals are ubiquitous in tap and bottled water because they line the insides of packaging

The map shows cities with the highest concentrations of PFAS in their water

The map shows cities with the highest concentrations of PFAS in their water

Dr. Aaron Bernstein, director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), told ABC News the information is meant ‘for individuals and communities around the country, who are concerned about exposure to PFAS to have productive conversations with their medical providers.’ 

Forever chemicals lurk in drinking water, as a product of manufacturing and industrial waste disposal, as well as runoff from contaminated storm water.

The chemicals enter drinking water when products containing them are used or spilled onto the ground or into lakes and rivers.

Once in groundwater, PFAS can travel long distances and contaminate drinking wells. PFAS in the air can also get into rivers and lakes, which are often used for drinking water.

Air pollution is also a major source of PFAS contamination. Factories spew it out into the atmosphere. Once in the air, they can travel far and wide easily. 

The chemicals also line food packaging and have shown up on fresh produce grown with PFAS-laden water, making them ever-present in everything we eat.  

A handful of the more than 7,000 different PFAS chemicals have been identified as possible carcinogens and drivers of liver and thyroid dysfunction as well as pregnancy complications.

PFAS contamination is a relatively new concern, as scientists have only recently – in the past decade – begun to study the long-term effects of drinking contaminated water and breathing poisoned air. 

The CDC’s new guidance encourages patients and doctors to discuss the risks of PFAS exposure and the benefits of blood testing to determine what kinds of treatments or preventative health measures may be necessary. 

In deciding whether to order PFAS testing, doctors ‘can consider an individual’s exposure history, results of PFAS testing from the patient’s water supply, food sources, or other exposure routes, and whether results can inform exposure reduction and health promotion.’

Almost half of all tap water sources in the US are laced with toxic PFAS ‘forever chemicals’, according to a major study from the US Geological Survey last year. 

The report found 45 percent of drinking water sources contained at least one PFAS – with highest concentrations in the Great Plains, the Great Lakes, the Eastern Seaboard and Central/Southern California.

Experts said the findings were ‘frightening’ given the scale of the problem and the link between the toxins and serious health conditions like cancer, infertility, birth defects and hormone issues.

But bottled water may not be much better. Researchers at Columbia University found the average liter bottle of store-bought water contains over 240,000 nanoplastics, PFAS linked to cancer, infertility and birth defects.

Cities with the highest levels of toxic ‘forever chemicals’ in tap water also have above-average rates of disease and pregnancy complications. 

The majority of neighborhoods with the highest levels of PFAS chemicals in drinking water suffer more cancer diagnoses and deaths than the rest of the country each year and see more babies born at dangerously low weights.

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