Among all the toxins in the Pandora’s Box are the chemical pollutants that people have thrown out into the world, particularly alarming PFAS.

PFAS – per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – have been dubbed “chemicals forever” for their ubiquity, persistence and toxicity. They are used in household items, including non-stick pans, waterproof fabrics and popcorn bags for the microwave, and can contaminate water, air, soil, crops and animal products. They accumulate in the blood, bones and tissues of living beings and do not degrade. PFAS impairs the human immune system, making us more susceptible to diseases – even those against which we have been vaccinated. Researchers have linked the chemicals to liver disease, obesity, thyroid disease and certain cancers, among other health problems. These observations typically relate to the relatively few PFAS we have studied, including PFOC and PFOS; PFAS belong to a broad family of chemicals, thousands of which are unexplored and potentially harmful.

Now scientists have for the first time found a way to remove PFAS from the human body: by donating blood.

A new study, published in the JAMA Network Open, tracked PFAS levels in 285 Australian firefighters who are regularly exposed to PFAS in fire-fighting foam and accumulate high levels of chemicals in their bodies. During the year, one group of firefighters donated plasma every six weeks, the second – every 12 weeks, and the third group acted as a control.

“This randomized clinical trial showed that regular blood or plasma donations lead to a significant reduction in serum PFAS levels for participants,” the study authors write. Blood donors reduced PFAS levels by 10% and plasma donors by 30%. Both groups maintained their decline for at least three months after the trial. The study did not investigate whether lowering PFAS in the blood necessarily leads to improved health.

This is almost ironic: while the $ 4 trillion global health industry is reluctant to sell us questionable detox products, there is an affordable, easy and free way truly cleanse our blood of toxins. And blood is always in high demand. In January, the American Red Cross, which supplies 40% of the country’s blood, in January experienced the biggest blood shortage in more than a decade. Blood donation services have traditionally invoked altruism to attract and retain donors; perhaps donations will increase when people learn that donating blood may also be in their best interest. (And in the case of donating plasma, donors often receive financial compensation.)

If you donate PFAS, you are actually laying your PFAS on the blood recipient. There is something morally unpleasant about this, though it’s important to remember that PFAS is already ubiquitous, and blood recipients tend to need blood much more urgently than they need to worry about PFAS.

But the idea of ​​unloading blood with toxins raises questions of health and ethics.

“This is a big debate. “It’s a big question,” said Dr. Bruce Lanfer, co-author of the study and a researcher who specializes in exposure to toxins in childhood. “Should we test blood for chemicals, at least for premature ones? Should we test this for all people? ” He noted that premature babies may need several full blood transfusions at a time when they are “perfectly sensitive to toxic chemicals”.

Raising public awareness of chemical contaminants in the blood “raises questions about blood security,” Lanfer says. “And of course there will be a lot of disbelief, a lot of deviations from that, because it’s pretty inconvenient.”

“The Red Cross and the FDA are working together to ensure the safest blood supply, and people don’t have to worry about the safety of donating or receiving blood,” Dr. Susan Stramer, vice president of research for American Red Cross Blood Services, wrote in an email. .

“At the moment there are no regulatory restrictions [PFAS] in the blood due to the lack of any documented evidence of harm. No study has shown the harmful effects of such substances in the blood on donors and recipients.

And donations save lives, after all.

In any case, further studies of the impact of PFAS are needed – urgently. Not only is there no set threshold for “safe” levels of PFAS in the blood, the U.S. also lacks a national drinking water standard for PFAS contamination.

Tightening regulations and changes in production may reduce our impact on some PFAS. According to the CDC, from 1999 to 2014, PFOC and PFOS levels in the blood decreased by more than 60% and 80%, respectively. Last year, the European Union adopted a plan to phase out all but basic use of PFAS. In the US, the state of Maine has passed a law banning the sale of new carpets and fabrics that contain intentionally added PFAS from 2023, as well as the sale of any products containing added PFAS, until 2030. Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington have also taken steps to limit PFAS production.

At this point, we know that there is a “constant balance between exposure and excretion” of PFAS in the body, according to study lead author Dr. Robin Gosyarovsky. By donating blood or plasma, “you can greatly speed up this part of the elimination.”

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