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High levels of PFAS exposure linked to lower antibody response in vaccines

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TOWN OF CAMPBELL, Wis. (WXOW) - Health experts drew a connection between PFAS exposure and vaccine effectiveness during a webinar on Monday.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Department of Health Services hosted a virtual public forum to discuss mitigation efforts against statewide PFAS contamination.

The DHS said the most common exposure to PFAS is through food as it is found in food wrappings, furniture, grease, and water resistant products.

Toxicologist Dr. Sarah Yang said most people have some form of PFAS in their bodies. Plus studies on the side effects are so new that it is hard for the DHS to pinpoint exactly how it might cause harm.

She said some who have been exposed to high PFAS levels experience increased cholesterol, decreased fertility and less effective responses to vaccines.

"So this doesn't necessarily mean reduced our ability to fight off infection," Dr. Yang said. "But when we get some sort of a flu vaccine the doctors test for antibodies a little while later people who have been exposed to high levels of PFAS have been shown for certain types of vaccines to have a lower antibody response."

She said all they can do is continue research and study people who have been extremely exposed.

The Town of Campbell community members are concerned that the only step forward is funding from Governor Tony Evers' biennial budget.

There are 35 contamination sites listed on the DNR's website in Wisconsin and DHS officials said right now Gov. Evers' PFAS relief budget is set for over $20 million. The money is intended to cover continued water testing, research and provide safe drinking water.

"The sad part is that 20 million dollars is a drop in the hat right now but it's a move in the right direction," Town of Campbell supervisor Lee Donahue said. "But most of the communities Marinette, Peshtigo, Dane County, Rhinelander, Green Bay, Town of Campbell… It's going to cost $50 to $70 thousand to do the type of remediation that is necessary."

She encouraged people to reach out to legislators and the state joint finance committee directly to advocate for PFAS budget passage.

The total dollar amount could change as it still needs approval from the joint finance committee and the earliest that could happen is in June.

INFORMATION AND PREVIOUS WXOW COVERAGE ON PFAS ISSUES

WXOW Coverage of PFAS issues

City of La Crosse PFAS information

Town of Campbell PFAS information

DNR PFAS information website

DNR investingation into Town of Campbell PFAS contamination

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Marcus Aarsvold

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