BERLIN — A $5.1 million federal grant will allow the state to test Berlin residents to see if they have higher than average levels of chemicals in their systems.

The N.H. Public Health Laboratories was awarded a five-year grant by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for its biomonitoring program. The program measures chemicals in human blood and urine in an effort to understand how exposure to contaminants impacts health.

“This grant allows the biomonitoring program to continue our work in an effort to understand the relationship between human health and exposure to environmental contaminants,” said Christine Bean, director of the N.H. Public Health Laboratories.

The Berlin project is one of several the program will undertake with the grant.

PHL Chemistry Program Manager James Chithalen said the Berlin project will take place in the second year of the grant, from September 2020 to January 2021.

Berlin was selected, he said, because it has the Chlor-Alkali Superfund site, the Androscoggin River from Berlin to the Maine line has been catch-and-release because of higher than average levels of mercury and a biomass power plant.

“It’s just a site that could have a lot of exposures that people aren’t aware of,” Chithalen said.

He said the project will randomly send out letters inviting people to participate with a goal of getting 360 participants. Chithalen said they will seek to get a representative sample of the city including both new and long-term residents.

Those selected will be tested for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, pesticide and herbicide metabolites, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, several metals including mercury and volatile organic compounds found in items like liquid fuels, paints and varnishes.

The project will check to see how the test results in Berlin compare to the rest of the state and country.

Amanda Cosser, manager of the biomonitoring program, stressed that just because people may have higher than average levels of some chemicals does not mean there is a health impact.

The grant will also fund PHL’s work with families of children with elevated lead levels though the Health Homes Lead Program and allow testing of private wells at risk for contamination during flooding to create a baseline for comparison.

Finally, the grant will pay for a follow-up analysis of the statewide public health study of chemical exposures currently underway. Formally known as the 2019 NH Tracking and Assessment of Chemical Exposures Study the study looks at how much of certain chemicals are getting into people’s bodies and how those levels compare over time. The grant will allow for an additional study in 2024 to see if efforts to limit exposure have reduced levels.

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