Blood study shows high PFAS levels in Moose Creek residents from well water contamination
Moose Creek is six miles south of North Pole on the Richardson Highway, and it is beautiful on a sunny June day. Inside the firehouse, federal health experts are discussing finding PFAS chemicals in the blood from local residents.
“The likely source of contamination was the use of firefighting foam from the, from the base that had been used probably as early as the 1980s,” said Lieutenant Commander Brad Goodwin, Deputy Director for ATSDR's Office of Community Health and Hazard Assessment. He’s wearing a uniform. He serves as part of the Public Health Service.
ATSDR is the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. After the Air Force and the state found poison in the aquifer near Eielson Air Force Base, the agency wanted to know how much exposure local residents got.
In 2020, the agency asked the 600 or so residents of Moose Creek, which is on the same aquifer, to give blood and urine samples. 88 people did. A year later, they sent each participant the results -- There were per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in the samples. Some residents say they got sick.
“It's um, hard to say that any particular health outcome is caused by PFAS.”
Dr. Lori Verbrugge is a toxicologist, and the Regional Representative for ATSDR. Her office is in Anchorage.
“What's gotta be really frustrating for people to know that they've been exposed to something. And then hear that we don't have an answer about what it means for health,” Verbrugge said.
"...we can see where we're at on our blood tests, and mine was extremely high..."
ATSDR is doing only what’s called an “exposure assessment” which measures how much toxicity folks have picked up through drinking water from their wells.
They found that the level of two PFAS, perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), were higher in the blood of Moose Creek residents than national levels.
The final PFAS exposure assessment report for Fairbanks, AK, is available here: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/activities/assessments/sites/fairbanks-north-star-borough-ak.html.
During the meeting, it is obvious how close Moose Creek is to Eielson Air Force Base, the source of the groundwater contamination.
The Air Force has taken several mitigation measures for residents, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation is monitoring the groundwater plume, to prevent anyone else from exposure.
Goodwin says the meetings this week are to update residents about the exposure assessment.
“We're hearing a lot of people with questions about in there, the current situation with the wells and connection to the city water, uh, getting questions about gardening. A lot of people have questions about health effects, but that's not something that we're able to answer with the exposure assessment that we conducted,” he said.
That would require a “health study”
“A health study is more detailed, more in depth, takes a lot longer to plan and, and get going, and longer to analyze the data. But from that, we combine the exposure measurements with, health information to be able to have a better understanding.”
Vic Linney is known for his gardens, which were threatened by the chemicals in the well water.
“I haven’t really changed anything, it’s just how I water, now. I don’t use the groundwater.”
How much the big PFAS molecules are not taken up by plants is still unknown, but in the Moose Creek study, residents who came into contact with soil had higher PFOS levels than their neighbors.
Linney says, like his neighbors, he’s felt some impact on his health.
“Basically it seems like you get more fatigue,” Linney said.
He says mitigation measures, like residents hooking up to alternative water systems, are helpful.
“Thank you for doing the studies and we can see where we're at on our blood tests. And mine was extremely high, but I know about it and I can do natural things to detox faster,” Linney said.
More on the agency and the PFAS studies is on its website: www.astdr.cdc.gov/PFAS or call 1-800-CDC-INFO
A final meeting is being hosted by ATSDR online at 2 p.m. Tuesday. June 14 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Those interested in participating can sign up here: https://bit.ly/MooseCreekEASmallMtg