Donating blood may reduce PFAS levels in firefighters’ blood

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly referred to as PFAS, are often called the “forever chemicals” because they do not break down and can accumulate over time in the environment and in the human body. Exposures to this family of chemicals have been linked to cancer and other health effects.

Firefighters are at higher risk because they are exposed to these chemicals at high levels from multiple sources. PFAS are present in some firefighting foams to increase their fire suppression capabilities. They are used in firefighter protective gear to enhance the gears’ water resistance. PFAS can also be found in the products of combustion, since these chemicals are present in many household products that burn in fires.

While the first line of defense is preventing exposures to PFAS, firefighters also need ways to mitigate the effects of these chemicals on their health once they have been exposed.

Researchers at the University of Arizona Health Sciences recently embarked on a new study to test the effectiveness of blood or plasma donations in lowering levels of PFAS, and whether lower levels of PFAS reduce the risk of cancer or cardiovascular disease.

The study will build on recent research on Australian firefighters, which found that PFAS levels in the blood could be reduced if a person donated blood every 12 weeks or plasma every six weeks. The research team will first determine if firefighters in the U.S. will see the same benefit as those in Australia, and then expand the research to see if a reduction in PFAS levels results in beneficial biological effects.

This ongoing study is the latest in a series of significant research projects by the University of Arizona Health Sciences, contributing to our understanding of how occupational exposures impact firefighters’ health. Last year, the research team, in collaboration with the Tucson Fire Department, provided evidence to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that occupational exposure as a firefighter causes cancer. Learn more about the research team and its past and upcoming research on firefighter occupational health in the University of Arizona Health Sciences’ Jan. 17 blog.

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