Central Maine doctors searching for PFAS study participants

Enrollment drives going on all this month in Somerset, Kennebec and Waldo counties
Published: Sep. 12, 2023 at 5:12 PM EDT
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FAIRFIELD, Maine (WABI) - A Central Maine doctor researching PFAS and their impact on the community is launching another study.

But she needs some help.

“When we heard about Dr. Criswell, we were thrilled to think somebody actually wanted to try and help,” said Lawrence Higgins.

Lawrence and Penny Higgins of Fairfield were two of 30 participants in a 2021 study looking at Central Mainers exposed to high levels of PFAS.

Dr. Rachel Criswell of Redinton-Fairview General Hospital spearheaded that effort.

“We found in that study that the PFAS levels in people’s blood were on par with or higher than some of the highest exposure cohorts in the world,” explained Dr. Criswell.

While that study gave doctors some answers, there were more questions, too.

In a new study, Dr. Criswell is partnering with Dr. Abby Fleisch from MaineHealth to explore ways people in Central Maine are exposed in the first place.

“In Maine, the PFAS exposure is a little bit unique in that the PFAS was applied directly to the soil. And we have a community that’s very dependent on agriculture. And so people are not just exposed through water but also likely through food, through wild game, through fish. Maybe even through soil exposure,” Dr. Criswell said.

The doctors want to take a closer look at the mental health effects, too.

“The stress level is unreal,” Higgins said.

“We want people who are over the age of 18. And people who’ve lived at their address 12 months, at least 12 months, before the water was tested. We’re really hinging a lot of our data analysis on that sort of testing point. So, the activities that people did before their water was tested, activities they did after, feelings of anxiety and stress prior to testing and after,” said Dr. Criswell.

Anyone living in Kennebec, Somerset, or Waldo counties and have had their well tested for PFAS by the Department of Environmental Protection is eligible. They’re looking for 300 volunteers.

Participation involves a blood draw and a survey.

It’s all free of charge thanks to funding by the National Institutes of Health.

“There’s a lot of evidence and new guidance from the National Academies of Science that indicates that blood results are really the best way to estimate a person’s PFAS exposure. And again, since we’re we’re thinking that maybe water levels don’t tell the entire story. You know, we we think that blood will really give us a more accurate understanding of how people are exposed to PFAS,” Dr. Criswell said.

“I would like to tell people that they should take this seriously and to get their blood tested,” said Penny Higgins.

“One of the things that’s really important to me and to Dr. Fleiss is that these questions came from our community and so we’re we really are hoping to continue to partner with the community to help get get some answers as to what’s going on with PFAS,” said Dr. Criswell.

Everyone who’s eligible should have gotten a letter in the mail, but Dr. Criswell says signups have been slow.

If you still have questions, enrollment drives are going on all month.

Dr. Criswell will be at each of these drives giving a presentation on PFAS and the study:

  • Tuesday 9/12 at the Waterville Elks from 4-7pm
  • Wednesday 9/13 at the Waterville Elks from 9-12pm
  • Tuesday 9/19 at the Waterville Elks from 4-7pm
  • Wednesday 9/20 at the Waterville Elks from 9-12pm
  • Tuesday 9/26 at the Thorndike Town Hall from 4-7pm
  • Wednesday 9/27 at the Thorndike Town Hall from 9-12pm