Gloria B. Post, Jessie A. Gleason, Keith R. Cooper
Published: December 20, 2017
Perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs), a group of synthetic organic chemicals with industrial and commercial uses, are of current concern because of increasing awareness of their presence in drinking water and their potential to cause adverse health effects. PFAAs are distinctive among persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) contaminants because they are water soluble and do not break down in the environment. This commentary discusses scientific and risk assessment issues that impact the development of drinking water guidelines for PFAAs, including choice of toxicological endpoints, uncertainty factors, and exposure assumptions used as their basis. In experimental animals, PFAAs cause toxicity to the liver, the immune, endocrine, and male reproductive systems, and the developing fetus and neonate. Low-dose effects include persistent delays in mammary gland development (perfluorooctanoic acid; PFOA) and suppression of immune response (perfluorooctane sulfonate; PFOS). In humans, even general population level exposures to some PFAAs are associated with health effects such as increased serum lipids and liver enzymes, decreased vaccine response, and decreased birth weight. Ongoing exposures to even relatively low drinking water concentrations of long-chain PFAAs substantially increase human body burdens, which remain elevated for many years after exposure ends. Notably, infants are a sensitive subpopulation for PFAA’s developmental effects and receive higher exposures than adults from the same drinking water source. This information, as well as emerging data from future studies, should be considered in the development of health-protective and scientifically sound guidelines for PFAAs in drinking water.
This Perspective is part of the Challenges in Environmental Health: Closing the Gap between Evidence and Regulations Collection.