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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

New PFAS blood test for sale for West Plains residents affected by the dangerous chemical

West Plains residents study a map of private wells contaminated with PFAS.  (Courtesy of West Plains Water Coalition)

As West Plains residents have learned more about how PFAS has seeped into their groundwater for decades, many are still in the dark about how much of the chemicals are in their body.

Now, Quest Diagnostics is offering a PFAS blood test available to anyone 18 and older. Though costing several hundred dollars out of pocket, the service is a step toward accessibility for those at high risk of PFAS exposure.

“Scientists and the general public are increasingly aware that PFAS may be dangerous to human health, but access to quality, convenient testing to assess exposure is limited,” Quest Diagnostics Director of Drug Monitoring and Toxicology Dr. Jack Kain said in a statement.

Including a physician service fee, the test costs $306 and is not covered by insurance, according to Kain. The test can be purchased online

Once purchased, the test is conducted at one of Quest Diagnostic’s patient services centers. There are locations in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene at 601 W. Fifth Ave. and 920 Ironwood Drive, respectively.

Once blood is drawn, results of the test will be available seven to 10 days later.

West Plains Water Coalition President John Hancock said the cost of the test may still limit who can receive it.

“The poverty rate on the West Plains overall is around 30%. Hundreds of dollars for either well testing or blood testing is beyond the reach of many families. PFAS is a problem they didn’t cause, and the solutions are far beyond individual choice,” Hancock said. “Public attention and truth-telling is required to admit the realities of the trouble, toward big community actions to solve it.”

The blood tests checks for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – PFAS, a family of over 10,000 long-lasting human-made chemicals used in commercial and industrial products. Because of the large number of variations, Quest Diagnostics tests for nine specific chemicals that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have linked to adverse health effects.

Importantly for residents on the West Plains, the test will screen individuals for perfluorooctanoic acid – PFOA is a PFAS commonly used in firefighting foam. Much of the area’s exposure comes from foam washed into the groundwater used at Fairchild Airforce Base and the Spokane International Airport.

Dubbed “forever chemicals,” PFAS can take decades to dissipate in the environment or to metabolize out of the body. Because of the chemicals’ widespread use, most people in the United States and around the world have some level of PFAS circulating in their body.

Under the Quest Diagnostics test, the chemicals’ presence in the body is considered high when exceeding 20 nanograms per milliliter. If any PFAS chemical is higher than that metric, a physician will reach out to the test recipient to discuss the results.

According to the CDC, those with elevated levels of PFAS may experience the following:

  • Increase in cholesterol levels
  • Kidney and testicular cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Changes in liver enzymes
  • Lower antibody response to some vaccines
  • Decrease in birth weight

A PFAS blood test cannot diagnose any condition or disease, or explain how a medical condition should be treated. It it unknown what effects elevated levels of PFAS will have on any individual.

Quest Diagnostics recommends those who are at risk of elevated PFAS to get the test if able.

“Not everyone needs a PFAS test, but people at high risk of elevated exposure may benefit from greater access to the insights provided by this novel test,” Kain said.

Here are some reasons to think you might be at risk for high PFAS levels, according to Quest Diagnostics.

  • You have been exposed at an industrial job or in another profession like firefighting.
  • Your water supply comes from an area near a commercial or industrial location. These include places such as airports, military bases, manufacturing plants or sewage plants.
  • You are living near a facility that manufactures chemicals.
  • You are living near areas with known PFAS environmental contamination.

In a statement, MultiCare Rockwood Clinic Primary Care Medical Director Dr. Sarah d’Hulst recommended those considering the test to first speak with their primary care physician, who may be able to provide guidance or order the bloodwork themselves.

“We encourage patients to have an initial conversation with their primary care provider before ordering lab tests. Often, the results of these tests can be difficult to interpret without the counseling and guidance of a medical expert,” d’Hulst said.

Spokane’s other large medical system echoed a call to speak with their medical provider.

“People concerned about exposure to PFAS should talk with their healthcare provider, who can provide personalized guidance based on an individual’s health history and potential exposure risk,” Providence wrote in a statement

Being physician-overseen, the Quest Diagnostics test does offer access to a physician to discuss individual results over the phone, according to Kain.