HEALTH ADVISORY: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s PFAS exposure assessment near the former Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas

Health Advisory
Health Advisory
November 12, 2020

November 11, 2020

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were detected in some residential and public waterwells near the former Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock County. In February 2020,the Agencyfor Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conducteda study to find out if these chemicals found in water are also in resident’sbodies. ATSDR released individual results to residents on November 4, 2020 and willpublish a fact sheet with aggregate results on November 18, 2020.

Background:

PFAS are a group ofchemicals widely used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resistheat, oil, stains, grease, and water. They do not break down easily andcan bioaccumulate in the environment and people.

PFAS exposure may be associated with increased risk ofsome adverse effects on human health and may include:

  • Increasedcholesterol levels
  • Impairedhormonal and immune systems
  • Decreasedvaccine response in children
  • Changesin liver enzymes (high uric acid)
  • Increasedrisk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women
  • Decreasesin infant birth weights and preterm birth
  • Increasedrisk of kidney or testicular cancer

However, these types of health problems can be caused bymany different factors including lifestyle, environmental, social, and genetic,and it is difficult to know if PFAS exposure has caused health problems or madethem worse. Additionally, the symptoms associated with exposure to PFAS areoften non-specific and pose difficulties for diagnosis. More research is neededto better understand health risks associated with PFAS exposure. 

Exposure Assessment:

Scientists collected and analyzed blood andurine samples from community members that may have been exposed to PFAS in theirdrinking water. The sampling is part of a national investigation into PFASexposure in communities with PFAS in their drinking water.

TheAir Force previously used a type of firefighting foam containing PFAS, whichseeped into groundwater beneath Reese AFB and the surrounding area. An earliersurvey from 2017-2019 identified residential wells that had been contaminatedwith PFAS. While the Air Force no longer uses that kind of foam, thecontamination can persist for up to 15 years in groundwater, and contaminatedwells with PFAS levels above state or federal drinking water advisory levelswere provided with filtration systems and bottled water to reduce exposure.  

Information for Clinicians:

Scientific understanding of theeffects of PFAS exposure is still developing. Care of a patient exposed to PFASshould be based on the patient’s overall risk factors, exposure, familyhistory, signs and symptoms of illness, and a physical examination. Therecommendation is to provide standard medical care for any conditions present. There currently is notan established PFAS screening blood or urine level at which a health effect isknown to occur nor is there a level that correlates with or predicts particularhealth effects.

Asymptomatic patients

For asymptomatic individuals exposed to PFAS,there is no indication to deviate from established standards of medical care.The clinician should use clinical judgement to care for individual patients asusual.

Symptomatic patients

For patients with signs or symptoms ofdisease, clinicians should treat these patients using the standards of carethey would use for a patient who did not have a known PFAS exposure.

For patients withelevated PFAS serum or urine levels or who have concerns about PFAS exposure, cliniciansshould help the patient with ways to identify and reduce exposure sources whilepromoting standard age appropriate preventive care measures for general healthand wellness (i.e., Bright Futures 19https://brightfutures.aap.org/Pages/default.aspx and ClinicalPreventive Services Guidelines20 https://brightfutures.aap.org/Pages/default.aspx). 

Recommendationsto the Public:

There are no medical interventions that will remove PFASfrom the human body, but identifying sources of PFAS and preventing knownexposures may help lower risks. To reduce exposure to PFAS, residents with PFAS-contaminatedwater wells should:

  • Filtertheir water before use with a functioning filtration system or use analternative water source for drinking, food preparation, cooking, brushingteeth or any activity that might result in ingestion of water.
  • Filtration systems should be maintained andsampled routinely.

Forquestions:

For medically related questions please contact: PediatricEnvironmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) at 888-901-5665 or the Texas PoisonCenter Network at 1-800-222-1222

If you have any questions about the exposure assessment, please contact,ATSDR Region 6, at 214-577-3506 or pay9@cdc.gov

If you have questions about water filtration systems, please contact theAir Force at Reese Center, at 210-834-2353 or paul.carroll.1@us.af.mil; and (866) 725-7617; afimsc.pa.workflow@us.af.mil

For More Information:

Information on ATSDR’s Exposure Assessment: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/activities/assessments.html

Information on the PFAS in Groundwater at the Lubbock Reese Air ForceBase: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/activities/assessments/sites/lubbock-county-tx.html

Information about health effects associated with PFAS: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/health-effects/index.html

Information for clinicians on PFAS: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/resources/clinical-guidance.html