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Experts recommend blood removal to rid islanders of toxic chemical

Experts recommend blood removal to rid islanders of toxic chemical

Wednesday 13 September 2023

Experts recommend blood removal to rid islanders of toxic chemical

Wednesday 13 September 2023


Scientists advising the Government on how to should support islanders with high levels of a cancer-linked chemical in their bodies is recommending that those affected should be offered a 'blood-letting' procedure.

The PFAS Scientific Advisory Panel, which includes academics and a chair who is an experienced public health official, has been commissioned by the Government to provide independent advice.

The group of experts are recommending that islanders who already have been found to have levels of PFAS in their blood should be offered ‘therapeutic phlebotomy’ which is, in essence, removing contaminated blood and letting the body naturally replenish itself.

PFAS is a family of thousands of different carbon compounds which were created from the 1930s because of their ability to repel heat, oil, water and other liquids. They were also extremely stable and durable.

However, PFAS was later linked to a number of health conditions, including cancer, thyroid problems, birth defects and infertility. 

PFAS products.jpg

Pictured: Some of the products which have or had PFAS in them.

Its inability to break down naturally has led to PFAS types being branded “forever chemicals”. Once these compounds find their way into ground and surface water, they can be ingested by animals and humans.

Various types of PFAS have been found to be in private water supplies and in the blood of islanders. Some PFAS exist in trace amounts in drinking water, although Jersey Water says that it complies with the highest international standards. 

Last year, people who had lived and worked in an area of known contamination – in St Ouen’s Bay and the Pont Marquet valley – were invited to take part in a Government-sponsored blood testing programme.

A total of 88 islanders took part and three types of PFAS – called PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS – were found in every sample taken.

When it came to PFHxS, 80% of samples, or 70 people, had a level which was in the top 5% of a “reference population” taken from an American study.

Simon Sand Quarry.jpg

Pictured: The lake at Simon Sand and Gravel in St. Ouen's Bay has been found to have high levels of PFAS, including in its fish.

After reviewing several studies, the The PFAS Scientific Advisory Panel is recommending to the Government that islanders already tested whose total PFAS level in their blood was ten nanograms per millilitre or higher should be able to access a service providing therapeutic phlebotomies.

The panel is also recommending that those who choose this blood-letting service should be offered a maximum of six donations per year. 

Panel chair Dr Steve Hajioff said: “While the evidence suggests that therapeutic phlebotomy can lower the body burden of PFAS, we do not yet know if that will improve people’s health. 

“As well as recommending that this intervention is offered to those who were tested as part of the previous testing, subject to the criteria, we are also recommending that blood is tested for PFAS again as well as for cholesterol and body iron; data is collected on any symptoms, and islanders complete a questionnaire on their quality of life.”

Dr Steve Hajioff PFAS 850x500.jpg

Pictured: PFAS Scientific Advisory Panel chair Dr Steve Hajioff is a former director of public health in London.

Recommending therapeutic phlebotomy will be the main conclusion of the first report of five that the panel is committed to produce. A later report will assess if there should be broader testing and whether different interventions should be recommended.

The Government say that while there are no clear associations in scientific literature between exposure to PFAS and health effects, there is increasing international concern around the topic.

On current evidence, it adds, the potential for adverse health effects cannot be ruled out but there is no international agreement about what a ‘normal’ level of PFAS in the blood is, or what level might be harmful for health. It says that more research is necessary to assess the human health effects of exposure to PFAS.

It is expected that any testing, interventions and research that Jersey carries out in this field will feed into wider international work on assessing the impact of PFAS and mitigating its effects. 

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