BENNINGTON >> The first blood drawing clinic for PFOA testing was held Friday at the state health offices on Main Street, the latest in the response around contamination in North Bennington.
Officials expected about 100 people to have their blood drawn at the clinic, some being village residents with contaminated wells, others who lived near or worked at the former ChemFab/Saint-Gobain plant.
April 30 is the final day to register for an appointment, according to the state Department of Health. Clinics are currently slated for today; Wednesday, May 4; Thursday, May 5; Wednesday, May 11; and Thursday, May 12.
For more information or to sign up and complete an accompanying questionnaire, visit: http://healthvermont.gov/enviro/pfoa_clinics.aspx.
The test results will help the state better categorize people's exposure to PFOA, according to Health Commissioner Harry Chen. Nearly all Americans already have PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, in their blood, mainly from exposure to consumer products. The test will "tell an individual how their blood level compares to normal Americans, and how their blood level compares to other people that have been tested."
"That's really all we can say," Chen said addressing members of the press Friday. "We can't connect any health effects to that particular blood level, we can't predict in the future what might happen to them, or connect what has happened in the past to the blood level."
He stressed that PFOA is an "emerging contaminant" and scientists are still researching it. Chen said studies have linked PFOA exposure with thyroid disease, high cholesterol, colitis, and pregnancy induced hypertension, as well as kidney and testicular cancers.
Having blood levels will help guide discussions between people and their doctors, Chen said, but added that, other than that, the tests won't tell residents much. Rather, the state will be able to use the results in their ongoing study on PFOA exposure. Chen said it's important to try to learn how far it's spread in the environment and how it moves through water, air and other paths.
About 300 people had signed up for the blood tests by Friday, Health Commissioner Harry Chen said, and 200 were given appointments. About 100 people were expected to pass through on Friday.
The federal Center for Disease Control (CDC) is assisting the state in what Chen described as a great logistical challenge, and is funding the cost of the test. Chen said it could take several months before the results are reported by the CDC lab.
The whole process, from the time they walk into the door to the blood is drawn, was expected to take about 15 to 25 minutes for each individual.
About 30 volunteers, in addition to state health workers, were working Friday's clinic. Residents were first asked to complete a detailed questionnaire that asks them their water intake and past occupations, among other information.
From there, nurses led individuals into one of several rooms where blood was drawn. After being drawn, it's spun in a centrifuge, lab director Mary Celotti explained. The serum is removed and frozen in dry ice. That all happens in an hour and a half.
Bishop and Robert Greene of Bennington were two individuals who had their blood drawn by Chen. The Greenes said well testing found PFOA levels above the state's recommended level for drinking water. "Were we are, it's all farms," Bishop Greene said. Like many residents, she worries about whether PFOA will turn up in vegetables and farm animals.
"It's a hard decision," she said. "It takes the wind out of your sails... We'll take the next step when we come to it."
Chen said, to his knowledge, the clinics are not part of a federal study. The CDC's role is providing "federal assistance to state response."
"The only thing sent to the DEC are de-identified blood test results," Chen said. "We will take care of all the confidential info. We'll also take responsibility for connecting results to the individual and providing the best information we can, which unfortunately, isn't as clear as we're used to."
Chen acknowledged that water samples are still being taken and PFOA could turn up in more wells, meaning some people would have missed the April 30 deadline. When asked about what will happen then, he said, "that's something we'll have to have discussions about."
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979