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Federal officials recruit New Castle residents for study of PFAS exposure

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media

The CDC is starting to recruit participants in New Castle for its nationwide study measuring blood levels of toxic PFAS chemicals. 


The studyby the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) focuses on communities around eight former and current military bases where elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been found in drinking water. It will compare exposure levels there to those of the general population.

PFAS have been found to increase the risk of cancer and affect human development, fertility and the immune system, according to the CDC. They were long used in consumer products like non-stick pans, as well as firefighting foams used on military bases.

Last week the federal agencies sent out letters to 885 homes near the New Castle Air National Guard Base, where levels of PFAS above the EPA’s health advisory level were found in Artesian Water Company and New Castle Municipal Services Commission public water supplies in 2014.

Karl Markiewicz, senior toxicologist at CDC/ATSDR, says the households invited to participate were randomly chosen from the roughly 6,000 the agencies think could have been exposed to the contaminated water. He says the goal is to get 400 participants in New Castle. 

“If we only get 100 people interested, we’re going to have another mailout,” he said. “We’re going to keep reaching out to the community until we can get to that 400 number.”

Households are eligible to participate if they have lived in the study area for one year prior to August 5, 2014 for customers of the Municipal Services Commission water supply system and July 18, 2016 for customers of the Artesian water supply system, according to CDC/ATSDR.

Biological and environmental testing in New Castle is scheduled for next month. Markiewicz says that will include blood and urine testing, and in roughly 10 percent of the participating households, sampling of water and dust.

Study participants will not be compensated, but Markiewicz says they will receive testing free of charge.

“The Centers for Disease Control [CDC] does a study across the United States for multiple chemicals in blood and urine, so what we’ll ... provide is not only their level, but how does that compare across the United States?”

The nationwide study is expected to take two years, but Markiewicz says participants will learn their own blood levels before then.

Other than through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which has measured blood PFAS in the U.S. population since 1999, CDC/ATSDR has not yet conducted any PFAS exposure investigations in Delaware.

PFAS contamination in groundwater or drinking water has also been documented on and around the Dover Air Force Baseand in the Town of Blades.

This story has been updated.

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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