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Federal officials test urine and blood of New Castle residents in chemical exposure study

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media

The CDC and the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry started testing the blood and urine of some New Castle residents last Wednesday as part of a nationwide study on exposure to PFAS chemicals. 


New Castle is one of eight sites near current and former military bases across the country where residents exposed to PFAS in public drinking water are being tested for their exposure to the chemicals. 

“The primary goal of these exposure assessments is to provide information to communities about levels of PFAS in their bodies, and provide a comparison to national averages,” said ATSDR Environmental Health Scientist Karen Scruton, who is leading the testing in Delaware. She says the results might be used to further inform studies about the impact of PFAS on human health.


Elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were found in 2014 in public drinking water around the New Castle Air National Guard base. Aqueous film-forming foam containing the chemicals was used for firefighting training there.



Some studies have shown certain PFAS chemicals may increase the risk of cancer and other health problems.

CDC and ATSDR officials identified a “sample area” of roughly 6,000 homes the agencies think could have been exposed to the contaminated water. More than 800 letters went out in September to randomly selected households within that area, inviting them to participate. 

Scruton says the agencies hoped for roughly 400 participants, but that so far, just over 200 have agreed to participate. The agencies expect to collect blood and urine samples from all participants by Saturday morning. 

Scruton says participants in the study first give their consent to be tested, then answer a questionnaire about their health and potential exposure to the chemicals. Participants then give a urine sample and a single vial of blood. 

“Ninety-eight percent of people in the country do have a measurable level of PFAS in their blood, so we do have a baseline number for the U.S.,” said Scruton. “All we’re doing here is trying to see whether exposure to PFAS in the drinking water, what that does to people’s levels in their body.”

Scruton says the biological testing is happening at the historic arsenal in Old New Castle. Officials also tested the dust and tap water in about fourteen randomly selected houses within the sampling area. 

Biological and environmental testing has already happened at study sites in Massachusetts and West Virginia, and will occur at five other sites across the country through the spring. 


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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