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

Health Department Starts PFOA Blood Clinics In Bennington

Vermont's Department of Health tested the blood of 477 people in Bennington County. This week, the EPA held a conference to discuss issues around chemicals like PFOA.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Following the discovery of widespread water contamination in North Bennington, the state has set up a free blood clinic to test residents' blood for the suspected carcinogen PFOA.

As the state continues to confront the widespread water contamination near the former Chemfab plant in North Bennington, the first PFOA blood clinic was held Friday at the Vermont Department of Health's office in Bennington.

Denise Barton lives right behind the former Chemfab plant in North Bennington. She came out to get her blood tested for the suspected carcinogen, even though she knew the results would not give her all the answers she wanted.

"My son, who is 31, he has had testicular cancer," she says. "So that's of concern. I mean, I heard that was one of the possible side effects. You know, he as a child played in that river, right behind the plant. So, we'll never know if that's why, or the cause of it, but, you know, I think it'd be worth looking into."

Barton was one of the first people to get her blood tested, and over the next few weeks the health department expects to test about 300 people for PFOA.

PFOA was unregulated before it was phased out, and there isn't a lot known about its long term effects on human health.

Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen, who has personally administered some of the blood tests, says the blood clinics are being offered for free to the people in North Bennington. But he acknowledges that the results can only go so far in settling the nerves of people like Barton.

Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Denise Barton lives behind the former Chemfab plant in North Bennington. Barton was one of the first to get her blood drawn at a clinic at the Department of Health office in Bennington.

"We'll be able to 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 says. "We can't connect any health effects to that particular blood level, and we can't predict in the future what might happen to them or connect what has happened to them in the past to the blood level."

The Vermont health department is working with the Centers For Disease Control in administering the blood clinics.

The federal agency is paying for some of the costs associated with the the tests, which are expensive and specialized.

Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Mary Celotti, a health department lab director, shows a specialized fume hood the department had to purchase to meet CDC standards.

The blood has to be sent out of state, and it will be months before the results are sent back.

Chen says the overall results will be shared with the CDC but without information that would identify individuals.

"This is a pretty significant logistical undertaking, especially if we involve CDC, because they have a very high bar in terms of their standards," Chen says. "So it took a lot to get it together. We actually had to buy a couple pieces of equipment, some centrifuges and some hoods. Everybody is scrambling to get it done as quickly as we can, but to do it in a way that we can actually rely on the results."

Almost 200 people are volunteering during the clinics, which will continue over the next few weeks.

Clarification 8:55 p.m., April 30: This story was updated to clarify that the state will share the overall blood test results with the CDC but without information that would identify an individual.

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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