Federal public health officials expect to release a report later this year summarizing their findings following testing of 275 residents in Berkeley County for man-made “forever chemicals” that don’t break down in the human body.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, performed exposure assessments in Berkeley County in the fall of 2019 after they started testing in communities near current or former military bases known to have had per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in their drinking water.
The Shepherd Field Air National Guard Base previously used aqueous film-forming foam containing PFAS to fight fires and train workers, according to federal public health officials. The compounds later moved offsite in groundwater, likely affecting the City of Martinsburg’s Big Springs well supplying drinking water to both the city and a small percentage of Berkeley County customers.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, released the individual and community-level PFAS test results in May 2020 that showed two PFAS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, or PFOS, and perfluorohexane sulfonate, or PFHxS) above national averages. The levels of five other PFAS, including the common industrial chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), were similar to or below national averages, according to the agency.
But the final site-specific report will take a deeper look at the data and the information collected from participants via questionnaires to learn if and how levels of PFAS vary by characteristics such as age, and sex, and other social and demographic and exposure characteristics (such as length of residency in the community and amount of water consumed).
“The analysis of this information will help us understand what factors or behaviors are related with higher levels of PFAS in people’s blood,” the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s Office of Communication said.
The agency will host a community meeting to share findings and recommendations once its analysis is complete.
Individuals who participated in the exposure assessment provided blood and urine samples to the public health agencies, which said individual test results were mailed to participants in May 2020.
PFAS can be found in food, household products and drinking water. Research shows high levels of certain PFAS may lead to increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer, increased risk of high blood pressure in pregnant women, changes in liver enzymes, decreased vaccine response in children and increased cholesterol levels, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Most people in the United States have been exposed to PFAS and have PFAS in their blood, especially PFOS and PFOA, the agency says.
Residents who may have been affected in Berkeley County include those who live south of the Big Springs treatment plant and Martinsburg residents connected to the city municipal water supply who live west of Interstate 81 or in the Amber Woods housing complex east of I-81.
PFAS was first detected in the Big Springs well in February 2014, according to federal public health officials, but levels did not exceed a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provisional health advisory level. In 2016, an EPA health advisory for the sum of PFOS and PFOA at 70 parts per trillion prompted Martinsburg city officials to take their Big Springs well out of service until a treatment system was installed to remove PFAS from the well water, per federal health officials.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry collected tap water samples and said PFAS levels for all samples were below federal and applicable state guidelines for PFAS in drinking water. The agency has said that the public drinking water supplies in and near Martinsburg currently meet all federal guidelines for PFAS.
Gov. Jim Justice last week signed into law House Bill 2722, which prohibits the use of firefighting foam that contains intentionally added PFAS chemicals for testing purposes, although it can still be used in emergency firefighting operations.