For instance, everyone in America has some measurable amount of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in their bodies, so who are “those exposed”? PFAS is obiquitous. The omnipresent PFAS chemicals also show up in pharmaceutical packaging.
And COVID testing is already an issue, so how could PFAS testing expedite the process? And how much PFAS is too much?
According to the CDC, research has shown that exposure to PFAS can impact human immune systems, and may also impact antibody responses to vaccines. So a study is underway: CDC scientists are measuring PFAS levels among emergency responders and healthcare workers to determine a link between the chemicals in their blood and the risk of coronavirus infection and contracting COVID-19. “It does mean that [people with high levels of bio-accumulated PFAS chemicals in their bodies] have a higher risk of getting sick,” said Jamie DeWitt, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at East Carolina University.
DeWitt further explained that exposure to PFAS chemicals and resulting suppressed immune systems could lead to more severe reactions among those who do become infected with COVID-19, such as greater need for intensive care or even death. And it gets worse: scientists are also concerned that exposure to PFAS over long periods or at high levels may reduce people’s response to the COVID-19 vaccine. How long is “over long periods” and how high is “high levels”?
Testing for PFAS
Sure, those with greater risk of PFAS exposure could be determined by geographical area; close proximity to military bases; contaminated tapwater. Firefighters and the military could jump the COVID vaccine line – but the military exposed many public citizens to PFAS in the first place, so how would that work?
Forever and Everywhere PFAS
PFBA has come to be called “forever chemicals” because this class of industrial compounds contaminates soil, water and food the world over. It is ubiquitous: Reporter Sharon Lerner for The Intercept wrote that “PFBA is used in electronics; clothing, including water-resistent outerwear; protective gear for medical staff and firefighters, such as surgical gowns; firefighting foam; carpets; floor polish; laboratory equipment; leather treatment; food packaging; cosmetics, including body lotion and foundation, concealer, eye shadow, powder; and bike lubricants, according to a recently published paper on the previously unknown uses of the chemicals, including hand sanitizer!
Tasha Stoiber, senior scientist with nonprofit Environmental Working Group, has advised health authorities to “consider moving those exposed to PFAS up the priority list for COVID-19 inoculation and perhaps even offer them extra vaccine booster doses to ensure adequate antibody response.” She went on to say that people can take certain measures to reduce their PFAS exposure, such as “reduce household consumer products laden with the chemicals; reduce the use of take-out containers that often contain PFAS; investigate drinking water sources for PFAS contamination…”
Sounds like a simple solution—just stop using the products. But maybe Stoiber hasn’t heard that PFAS are called the forever chemicals for a reason. And hold the hand sanitizer!
Danish PFAS Study
In a recent study researchers in Denmark concluded that PFASs included PFBA that accumulates in the lungs. Elevated plasma-PFBA concentrations were associated with an increased risk of a more severe form of COVID-19. The study involving 323 patients in fact found that people were twice as likely to have this form of COVID-19. Although PFBA exits the bloodstream relatively rapidly, it accumulates in the lung. It also causes changes in the liver and thyroid, as well as decreased red blood cells, decreased cholesterol, and delayed eye opening in animal experiments
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PFBA, which stays in the human blood for a shorter time than other compounds, was created by the 3M company. It is based on a four-carbon chain that lasts in human blood for a few days, but PFOA is based on eight carbons and is known to stay in human blood for several years. PFBA is still in use but PFOA was taken off the market in 2015.