PFAS Health Studies: Who can participate?

July 15, 2021

By Emily Bourgeois, student at Michigan State University

Joost van‘t Erve is a toxicologist at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) who has been a frequent guest at the Wolverine Community Advisory Group (CAG). The Wolverine Community Advisory Group (CAG) is a public group that aims to address PFAS contamination issues and subsequent clean-up efforts by Wolverine Worldwide, Inc. in Kent County, Michigan. Van‘t Erve provides frequent updates on the PFAS Health Studies to the CAG, and he has also contributed to a blog post about these studies, available on the CAG’s website here. Posted in January, this post by Tammy Bergstrom offers insight into the MiPEHS (my-pez) study that is organized by the MDHHS. Since then, a myriad of other studies in Michigan have also emerged. Here is a look at some of these PFAS studies, who can participate, what they are researching, and when results might be available to the public.

The Michigan PFAS Exposure & Health Study

The Michigan PFAS Exposure & Health Study (MiPEHS) is focusing on The City of Parchment and Cooper Township in Kalamazoo County and the Rockford/Belmont Area in Kent County. Current Belmont/Rockford residents in this study area are eligible to participate if they have had their private drinking well water tested by, or at the direction of, a State of Michigan agency. The private well must have been a source of your drinking water between 2005 and 2018. This study is open to individuals 12 years of age or older, regardless of occupation. Current or former dependents of an adult that lives at an eligible household that drank that water from that home between 2005 and 2018 are also eligible. Van‘t Erve stated that “about 850 people have completed” data collection so far, and the MDHHS will keep enrolling until mid-August. To ensure they are reaching their full target audience, they have begun an outreach campaign including social media posts and a door to door component. 

MiPEHS will study blood levels of PFAS and how they are related to several key health factors over time. “We’re trying to generate things that any doctor can use, so if people come in with PFAS concerns – whether they’re current or in the past – doctors can know the types of things we should be looking out for.”

MiPEHS is currently enrolling participants. As of 6/18/2021, MiPEHS has enrolled 503 adults and 111 children from 316 different households in the Belmont/Rockford area. Individual participants in the study will receive blood test results, including PFAS levels and health tests, as they become available. If you live in the study area and believe you may be eligible based on this criteria, call 855-322-3037 to learn more and to enroll. 

Van‘t Erve highlighted that the study’s primary focus is on delivering individual results. A public results forum for the study’s findings is planned for 2026. According to van’t Erve, the tentative plan is to at least send a preliminary report that at least describes the average PFAS levels in the community, and how the levels have dropped from time point to time point. 

“The research type papers or actual study findings might have to wait a longer time because we need to capture all the data first to make that type of conclusion. Anything that we can report preliminarily in the meantime that makes sense to the community, we’re happy to do that,” explained van‘t Erve.

The Multi-Site Study

The Multi-Site Study (MSS) is a study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in seven communities across the United States. ATSDR has partnered with the MDHHS to conduct the MSS in the same communities as MiPEHS. Unlike MiPEHS, the MSS will only be open to people without past work exposures. Researchers will gather data from blood samples and urine samples of participants during one office visit in 2021-2022. Blood testing for this study will occur for individuals ages 4 and older. 

Similar to the MiPEHS study, personal results will be mailed as they become available, and a public results forum is planned for 2026. Participation in both the MiPEHS and the MSS studies are encouraged for eligible participants. MSS will combine Michigan data with six other communities nationally to study blood levels of PFAS and how they are related to health outcomes in the US. 

“We’re doing nearly the identical research but there you get the benefit of combining all the data with a diverse population, and a lot more people too” says van’t Erve.

The PFAS Exposure and Antibody Response to COVID-19 Vaccine Study

The MDHHS is doing a research study to see if PFAS exposure affects how the immune system responds to COVID-19 vaccines and antibody production. The PFAS Exposure and Antibody Response to COVID-19 Vaccine Study is available for adults 18-90 years old who are participants or eligible to participate in the Michigan PFAS Exposure and Health Study. The participants must have not yet received the COVID-19 vaccine, but plan on getting vaccinated OR have received a COVID-19 vaccine within the past 62 days. People who are pregnant or have certain health conditions are not eligible for the study. Participants in this study will have up to four appointments at a study office, depending on their type of vaccine (one-shot versus two-shot). COVID-19 vaccines are not provided by MDHHS as part of the study. 

Participants can choose to receive their PFAS blood test results and immune response to the COVID-19 vaccines from the study. To check your eligibility, call 866-558-0732. Participants will also be compensated with gift cards totaling up to $55-$135 depending on the length of office visits.

Two other studies involving Michiganders are not taking volunteers, but are still notable for PFAS research. 

On April 28th, the MDHHS launched the PFAS in Firefighters of Michigan Surveillance (PFOMS) study. Over the next three years, the MDHHS plans to recruit between 600-900 career and volunteer firefighters. Seven departments are participating in the first year of the PFOMS project, including West Michigan’s Dorr Township Fire Department in Allegan County. The purpose of this project is to determine firefighters’ average exposure to PFAS, commonly found in some of their equipment. A results assessment is planned for Summer 2024.

Michigan Chemical Exposure Monitoring (MiChEM) is a statewide biomonitoring project focused on a representative sample of Michigan adults. The project aims to find the statewide average level of exposure to certain chemicals, including PFAS. Because it is a representative sample looking for a statewide average, participants will be selected through a specific process, and no volunteers can be accepted.

Van‘t Erve expressed the importance of these studies, “PFOMS and MiCHEM kind of do their own thing because they’re more of monitoring studies than anything else…MiCHEM is one to keep an eye on.The limit that we have now with MiPEHS is that the population we compare things against is that national average” 

MiCHEM is surveying a larger amount of PFAS than the national average, and can provide a Michigan average. 

“Even though they can’t directly participate, for us, we can better interpret our results, and they have more context about what their levels mean and what their community levels mean.”