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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Health Department Says PFOA Blood Testing Is Still Weeks Away

Howard Weiss-Tisman
A PFOA information center has been opened in the Department of Health building in Bennington. The DOH says it won't be able to start blood tests for at least a few weeks.

The Department of Health says it will be at least a few weeks before North Bennington residents will be able to do blood testing for the suspected carcinogen PFOA.

So far 104 private wells in North Bennington show elevated levels of PFOA, the chemical that was used at the former Chemfab plant.

Now the Health Department is scrambling to set up blood tests for anyone who consumed the contaminated water on a regular basis.

At a community meeting last week, Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan prepared North Bennington residents for what they're likely to find out when their blood is tested.

"If you have high levels in your water it is almost certain that you have levels above background of PFOA in your blood," Dolan said.

Dolan went on to explain that having PFOA in the blood doesn't necessarily mean it will lead to cancer.

She knows there's still a lot of anxiety around North Bennington.

But unfortunately it will be another few weeks before the state is able to begin the blood tests.

The Department of Health is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the federal agency has to sign off on the state's testing program.

"If you have high levels in your water it is almost certain that you have levels above background of PFOA in your blood." — Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan

But until the Health Department knows how many people will be tested, they can't give the CDC an accurate estimate of the scope of the testing.

"We would love to be able to say next week, boom, we're going to get you that information," Dolan says. "It does bring peace of mind to know what's happening in your own body and certainly I can imagine, with children, I'm a mom, so I would also have questions. But we are moving as quickly as we can and we are reaching out to physicians in the community as well."

The CDC will not have access to the health records of North Bennington residents, according to a Health Department spokesman.

The state says it will first test the blood from people who have the highest levels of PFOA in their water.

When environmental officials ran their water tests, they had to send the samples out to a lab in Wisconsin.

Health officials say they're running into similar challenges in setting up the blood clinics, and they haven't even zeroed in yet on which lab will do the blood analysis.

The state promises to cover the costs of the blood tests.

Health officials also say people who do not have PFOA in their water might want a blood test, and those requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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