PARCHMENT, Mich. (WOOD) — The first phase of results from the Michigan PFAS Exposure & Health Study show unequivocally that participants who live near Rockford and Parchment have elevated of levels of PFAS in their blood compared to the national average.

State officials and researchers will hold two open houses this week to discuss the results of the study. The first is Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Parchment Community Library. The second one will be Thursday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Plainfield Township Office on Belmont Avenue. Residents and study participants are invited to attend to learn more about the Phase 1 results or ask questions about their personal test results.

The study focused on people who live in Belmont, Rockford, Parchment and Cooper Township, close to two major PFAS exposures. More than 1,000 people participated in the first part of the study: 584 from the Belmont/Rockford area and 470 from Parchment/Cooper Township.

Participants gave two different blood samples, one from a vein and one from a finger poke. The blood was tested for 39 different forms of PFAS and 38 other health markers to try and track any correlations.

Some participants, primarily from the Parchment/Cooper Township region were also tested for PCBs — polychlorinated biphenyls — to search for links between PCBs, PFAS and potential health effects.

Because PFAS pollution is so widespread, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that virtually everyone in the United States — 99.2% — has a detectable amount of PFAS in their blood. Test results for MiPEHS participants came back 100% positive.

(Courtesy Michigan PFAS Exposure & Health Study)

Test results were conclusive. The average amount of PFAS within the participants’ blood was above the national average. Those in the 95th percentile, or the top 5% of people with highest PFAS counts, were well ahead of the national equivalent. The data specifically for PFOA — perfluorooctanic acid — was notably different from the national average.

“The high end of blood concentrations, represented by the 95th percentile, were also higher in MiPEHS participants for PFOA — 65.8 micrograms per liter compared to 3.77 micrograms per liter,” the study found.

The study found that MiPEHS participants recorded higher levels than the national average in 38 of the 39 types of PFAS analyzed in the study.

Researchers also found that compared to participants from Cooper Township, Rockford or Belmont, people within the city of Parchment had much higher PFOA levels, both in average and in high-end concentrations. The average PFOA reading for participants from Parchment was higher than the 95th percentile for participants from the other three areas.

PFAS — or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — is a giant group of chemical compounds first developed in the 1940s and incorporated into all sorts of products for its waterproofing and heat-resistant properties. Decades later, research showed that PFAS compounds can build up in the human body, causing serious health problems including cancer. They are called “forever chemicals” because they do not break down easily in the human body, though concentrations of PFAS within the body do start to go down once exposure ends.

Each type of PFAS breaks down differently and therefore dissipates at its own rate. Some forms, like PFOS — perfluorooctanesulfonic acid — takes an average of 5.5 years for half of the buildup to leave a person’s body. Another type, like PFBA — perfluorobutanoic acid — takes around 72 hours.

The MiPEHS will be done in three total phases to look at the long-term correlations between exposures.

“We will be able to examine how certain PFAS in blood change over time, how certain health markers change over time and more. Some of the questions that MiPEHS asks will be answered best by combining data from all three phases, so some conclusions will have to wait until all data collection phases have ended,” the study reported.

Enrollment for Phase 2 testing started earlier this year. Phase 3 is expected to start in 2025.