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

November 11, 2020

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

Background:

PFAS are a group of chemicals widely used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. They do not break down easily and can bioaccumulate in the environment and people.

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

  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • Impaired hormonal and immune systems
  • Decreased vaccine response in children
  • Changes in liver enzymes (high uric acid)
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women
  • Decreases in infant birth weights and preterm birth
  • Increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer

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

Exposure Assessment:

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

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

Information for Clinicians:

Scientific understanding of the effects of PFAS exposure is still developing. Care of a patient exposed to PFAS should be based on the patient’s overall risk factors, exposure, family history, signs and symptoms of illness, and a physical examination. The recommendation is to provide standard medical care for any conditions present. There currently is not an established PFAS screening blood or urine level at which a health effect is known to occur nor is there a level that correlates with or predicts particular health 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 as usual.

Symptomatic patients

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

For patients with elevated PFAS serum or urine levels or who have concerns about PFAS exposure, clinicians should help the patient with ways to identify and reduce exposure sources while promoting standard age appropriate preventive care measures for general health and wellness (i.e., Bright Futures 19 https://brightfutures.aap.org/Pages/default.aspx and Clinical Preventive Services Guidelines20 https://brightfutures.aap.org/Pages/default.aspx). 

Recommendations to the Public:

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

  • Filter their water before use with a functioning filtration system or use an alternative water source for drinking, food preparation, cooking, brushing teeth or any activity that might result in ingestion of water.
  • Filtration systems should be maintained and sampled routinely.

For questions:

For medically related questions please contact: Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) at 888-901-5665 or the Texas Poison Center 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 the Air 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 Force Base: 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


Last updated November 12, 2020