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ICYMI: Shaheen Presses for Answers on Whether Granite Staters Exposed to PFAS Face Additional COVID-19 Risk

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) led a group of Senators calling on the Department of Health and Human Services to provide answers on the unique risks Granite Staters exposed to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) may face amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In a letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Shaheen wrote, “Americans need to be armed with the most complete information as possible about risk factors as states and local governments continue to phase-in the reopening of businesses, events and services.”

Jeff McMenemy’s Seacoast Online story about Senator Shaheen’s latest effort to help Granite Staters exposed to PFAS contamination can be read here or below:

Does PFAS exposure add to COVID-19 risk? Shaheen, senators push to find out

By Jeff McMenemy

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen is asking if COVID-19 poses “any unique risks” to people who have previously been exposed to PFAS chemicals.

The former Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth and Newington is one of a long list of military installations in the United States that have been contaminated by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS, sometimes referred to as forever chemicals.

Thousands of people working at the former base or Pease International Tradeport, along with children and infants who attended two day-care centers there, were exposed to multiple PFAS chemicals from contaminated water in the city of Portsmouth-owned Haven well up until its closure in 2014.

Shaheen, along with a group of other U.S. senators, sent a letter to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Friday raising concerns about how COVID-19 might impact people exposed to PFAS.

“As our country continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge you and the leadership of agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure that the connection between PFAS exposure and COVID-19 is thoroughly examined so that individuals in communities impacted by PFAS can take precautions that are guided by scientific evidence,” the senators stated in the letter to DHHS Secretary Alex Azar II.

The senators noted that “the relationship between PFAS exposure and the incidence of COVID-19 is one area where more research is needed.”

“Studies have suggested that exposure to high levels of PFAS can have a detrimental effect on the body’s immune system, which can leave individuals with PFAS exposure at increased risk for complications from many different diseases and conditions,” the letter states.

Shaheen and the other senators also noted that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) issued a “Statement on Potential Intersection between PFAS Exposure and COVID-19” earlier this month.

In the statement, “the agency expressed concern about how PFAS exposure can impact the risk of COVID-19 infection,” the letter.

“This statement indicated that ’there is evidence from human and animal studies that PFAS exposure may reduce antibody responses to vaccines... and may reduce infectious disease resistance,” Shaheen and the other senators wrote.

They are asking DHHS to provide answers to a series of questions.

One is if “the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases or any other institute within NIH have plans to fund research to assess the interaction of PFAS exposure and COVID-19?”

They also want to know if DHHS or other agencies are “capable of leveraging data already being collected on PFAS exposure via” the Pease or national PFAS health study “to examine the relationship between PFAS exposure and COVID-19?”

“If so, are these agencies capable of conducting antibody or other serological tests on willing voluntary participants within the PFAS studies, in a way that is sensitive to patients’ rights, to further examine the intersection between exposure to these chemicals and COVID-19?” the senators asked.

“If so, we strongly urge CDC to lead such a multi-agency analysis,” they added.

Portsmouth resident and environmental activist Andrea Amico stated “communities exposed to PFAS contamination already live with worry and fear about the many potential impacts to their health as a result of PFAS exposure.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened those concerns for people exposed to PFAS as they now also worry if they are more at risk to contract COVID-19 due to potential suppression of their immune system from PFAS contamination,” said Amico, the co-founder of advocacy group Testing for Pease. “PFAS impacted communities also question that if they do contract COVID-19, will their symptoms and duration of the illness be longer and more intense due to potentially diminished immune systems as a side effect of PFAS contamination.”

Amico, whose children were exposed to PFAS chemicals at a Pease daycare center, said “members of PFAS impacted communities” worry if a vaccine is developed for COVID-19 will it be “less effective for them as a result of their PFAS exposure.”

“It is critical that the relationship between PFAS exposure and COVID-19 is studied and examined closely,” Amico said.

PFAS are man-made chemicals used in products worldwide since the 1950s, including firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and water-repellent fabrics. They also have a range of applications in the aerospace, aviation, automotive and electronics industries.

In addition to being a suspected carcinogen, ATSDR states PFAS exposure can harm childhood development, increase cholesterol levels, hurt the immune system and interfere with the human body’s hormones.

Previous legislation from Shaheen established the first national study on the health effects of PFAS exposure in drinking water. Shaheen and Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., also fought successfully to have the Pease community serve as the model site for the national PFAS health study.

The letter was also signed on to by Sens. Hassan, Bernie Sanders, Richard Blumenthal, Joe Manchin, Amy Klobuchar and Edward J. Markey.