DURHAM, N.C.—People in areas where drinking water is contaminated with PFAS often want to know their PFAS blood levels but have trouble gaining access to reliable testing, which traditionally involves having their blood drawn by a medical professional.

A new study by researchers at Michigan State University, Duke University, the Colorado School of Mines and Eurofins Environmental Testing suggests there may be a second, more convenient way to test for PFAS using a self-administered finger prick.

Findings indicate that the new approach works well among people with elevated exposures to PFAS contaminants and can make it easier for individuals and researchers alike to collect and test blood.

“The ability to use a finger-prick device to measure PFAS exposure opens up new research opportunities, and importantly, allows people in the general public to test their own blood without having to be part of an academic research study,” said Heather Stapleton, the Ronie-Richele Garcia-Johnson Distinguished Professor of environmental chemistry and exposure science at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, who coauthored the study.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of chemicals that are used widely in industrial and consumer products. They are commonly known as “forever chemicals” due to their extreme persistence in the environment and the human body, where they can persist and accumulate for many years.

Researchers have detected PFAS in drinking water supplies used by millions of Americans and studies have linked exposure to some PFAS chemicals with a wide range of adverse health effects including high cholesterol, cancer, infertility, and low birth weight. Because they can cross the placental barrier, PFAS can accumulate in a growing fetus as well as in its mother.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed the first-ever national standards for PFAS in drinking water. The proposed standard would require public water systems to test for and limit six PFAS chemicals. Two of the most common types of PFAS—PFOA and PFOS—would have safe drinking water standards of just four parts per trillion.

To conduct the new peer-reviewed study, which was published May 16 in Environmental Science & Technology, researchers examined PFAS exposure measured by both a self-collected finger prick and a traditional blood draw among 53 people with prior exposure to PFAS drinking water contamination.

Participants first provided a blood sample collected by both a blood draw and by pricking a finger with a lancet and using a sample-collection device to collect a very small amount of blood needed for testing (only 60 microliters). The blood samples were analyzed by Eurofins for 45 different PFAS chemicals and revealed similar detection frequencies and high correlations between the two approaches.

“Results indicate that the new approach can work as well as the traditional approach among a more highly exposed population,” said Courtney Carignan, an exposure scientist and environmental epidemiologist at Michigan State, who led the study.

“Since the traditional approach uses serum and this new approach relies on whole blood, we also confirmed an approximate 2:1 ratio of PFASs in serum compared to whole blood,” said Carignan, who is an assistant professor in Michigan State’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.

The new, whole-blood detection method using a finger prick may also offer “a more comprehensive picture of the PFASs in our blood, including compounds such as FOSA,” said Christopher Higgins, University Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, another coauthor of the study.

FOSA was detected in approximately half of the whole blood samples, but not in any of the serum samples, he noted.

Additional coauthors of the new study were Rachel Bauer of Michigan State and Andrew Patterson, Thep Phomsopha, and Eric Redman at Eurofins Environment Testing.

The study was conducted with funding from the EPA but has not been formally reviewed by the EPA. The views expressed in the paper are solely those of its authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the agency. The EPA does not endorse any products or commercial services mentioned in the paper.

Additional support came from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

CITATION: “A Self-Collection Blood Test for PFASs: Comparing Volumetric Micro-Samplers with a Traditional Serum Approach,” C.C. Carignan, R.A. Bauer, A. Patterson, T. Phomsopha, E. Redman, H.M. Stapleton and C.P. Higgins; Environmental Science & Technology, May 16, 2023. DOI:  10.1021/acs.est.2c09852



Editor’s Note: This story is adapted from a news release produced by Michigan State University.