PORTSMOUTH — New research about the effects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances on pregnant women and young children is being performed in New Hampshire.
Andrea Amico, co-founder of the community activist group Testing for Pease, said even though more is being learned nationally about the effects of PFAS exposure on the adult population, there is a gap that needs to be filled when it comes to the next generation.
“Our babies are already born contaminated,” Amico said. “Children are a very sensitive population and we need to take extra precautions in examining their exposure to make sure they are safe.”
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say some studies already suggest PFAS exposure may affect growth, learning and behavior of infants and older children, as well as lower a woman’s chances of getting pregnant.
In Portsmouth, Amico’s organization is working as a community liaison for a $2.6 million federally funded study that will examine the effects of PFAS on the immune systems of kindergarteners exposed to contaminated drinking water at Pease International Tradeport and on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod.
Shaina Kasper, New Hampshire state director for Toxics Action Center, said they hope this research will add to the body of knowledge on PFAS and the effects of exposure in utero and as young children. Researchers from Silent Spring Institute and Northeastern University will examine the children’s immune response before and after their kindergarten booster shots, she said.
At the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College in Hanover, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology Megan Romano is working with the New Hampshire Birth Cohort to get data for 1,000 women from the Concord and Lebanon regions. She hopes to find out more about PFAS exposure’s effects on gestational weight gain, breastfeeding and early life physical growth of children.
Romano said the blood samples she is using were already collected by the cohort in 2009, when there was concern about arsenic in private water wells. The samples were taken from women between 18 and 45 years old who were between 24 and 28 weeks pregnant.
“We’re hoping to have the exposure data back some time in June. It will probably be six or seven months before we have findings we can publish,” Romano said.
Romano said even though there is not strong evidence yet to support the theory that PFAS exposure could lead to more serious health issues for children, such as pediatric cancers, there are still many areas to explore as scientists learn more about the contaminants.
The CDC says PFAS exposure can increase the risk of cancer in adults.
“I think it’s an important question for us to understand more about,” Romano said.
Earlier this month, officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unveiled their action plan for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. It is the first time the agency has built a multi-media, multi-program, national communication and research plan to address an emerging environmental challenge like PFAS.
EPA officials intend to establish a maximum contaminant level for PFOA and PFOS, two of the most well-known and prevalent PFAS chemicals. By the end of this year, they will propose a regulatory determination, which is the next step in the Safe Water Drinking Act process for establishing a MCL.
In May of last year, EPA convened a two-day National Leadership Summit on PFAS in Washington, D.C., that brought together more than 200 federal, state and local leaders from across the country to discuss steps to address PFAS. Following that summit, the agency hosted a series of community engagement events, including one in Exeter.