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Forever Chemicals: another look at PFASs

August 22, 2019

Forever Chemicals: another look at PFASs

This week, we take another look at the harmful effects of PFOAs. The first blog on PFOAs discussed the situation in the United States . PFASs, which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, and includes chemicals such as PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS and GenX, are getting attention from environmental and public health researchers.   

Now we briefly look at the policy and evidence on these chemicals more globally, focusing first on the Japanese Hokkaido birth cohort study. To recap, we are looking at these chemicals because:

  • They are pervasive
  • PFOAs can be transmitted to a baby in utero or through breastfeeding
  • PFOAs are linked to Cancer

The Hokkaido environmental health study looked at two groups of pregnant Japanese women and their exposures to a range of chemicals. It then tracked the children born to these women over time and assessed the health differences between the groups. The results of the Hokkaido Study suggest that even relatively low levels of exposure to environmental chemicals may have adverse effects on child health. The study, which will continue to follow the health outcomes of these children into adolescence, found that: prenatal environmental chemical exposure affects 

  • Birth size
  • Hormone balance
  • Neurodevelopment, and
  • Immune function

even at relatively low levels. Results from this study suggested that prenatal PFASs exposure may decrease birth size. In another cohort study across Greenland, the Ukraine, and Poland, scientists found PFOA to be associated with increases in both hyperactivity and behavioral problems. A number of other studies had less conclusive results for behavioral effects from PFOA and PFOS.

Globally, the health risks of persistent organic pollutants are coming into focus and resulting in policies that ban their use. On May 3rd of this year, 2019, 180 countries part of the Stockholm Convention settled on a worldwide ban of perfluorooctanoic acid. However, according to IPEN, a non-profit which works to eliminate the harmful effects of toxic chemicals to humans and the environment, “governments also included a large number of unjustified five-year exemptions for PFOA use in semiconductor manufacturing, firefighting foams, textiles claimed to protect workers, photographic coatings for films, and medical devices.” China, the EU and Iran even asked for additional exceptions.   

IPEN also states that “Sulfluramid use has proliferated widely in Latin America, causing widespread PFOS pollution.” The insecticide, used against leaf-cutting ants, was not mentioned as an exemption. Manufactured in Brazil and implemented in Latin America and the Caribbean, these places will continue to suffer from the toxicity of PFOS, as there is no timeline of when or if the chemical will be banned in this production. Fernando Bejarano, IPEN for Latin America, is quoted saying, "The continued use of sulfluramid in agriculture with no time limit protects Brazilian chemical companies, not human health and the environment.” 

A multi-day review of PubMed and other sources like ResearchGate yielded no research studies on PFOSs and maternal and child health in low-income countries. Given the likely contamination of groundwater and the pervasiveness of this chemical in the environment, this is an area ripe for research. In the meantime, the Maternova team will continue to monitor the literature, and bring potential rapid diagnostics for PFASs in groundwater to the attention of our audience. 

Definitions

PFASs: per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances

Most commonly studied PFASs… 

  • PFOSs: perfluorooctane sulfonate

  • PFOAs: perfluorooctanoic acid

 

UN Photo/Tobin Jones
Scene from Jowhar, Somalia
A young girl sits on a jerry can, as her mother fills up another with water, near the town of Jowhar, Somalia.
15 December 2013
Jowhar, Somalia
Photo # 574638




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