A new study has found significantly higher levels of highly toxic fluorinated chemicals among Asian Americans compared to other racial and ethnic groups in the U.S.
Forever chemicals: Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), commonly referred to as “forever chemicals,” encompass a family of numerous synthetic compounds recognized for their ability to make products resistant to water, heat and stains. Their presence has been identified not only in drinking water, but also in water sources across the U.S. PFAS exposure has been linked to serious health risks, including cancer, immune system suppression and kidney disease.
Meanwhile, Mexican Americans and other Hispanic Americans, respectively, had 88.5% and 30.8% lower median burdens compared with non-Hispanic whites. The researchers from Mount Sinai noted that the uncovered discrepancy is often overlooked by traditional measurement techniques. Supplementary data accompanying the study stated that there was no significant difference
in median exposure burdens of non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic white individuals.
Exposure assessment: The research team used a novel approach called mixture item response theory to assess PFAS exposure among the subjects, taking into account their sociodemographic, dietary and behavioral factors.
They applied the approach to existing PFAS biomonitoring data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which shows blood levels of various types of PFAS substances in subjects from 2013 to 2018. Unlike conventional methods employed by the U.S. government and much of the scientific community, this innovative technique accounted for the intricacies of exposure sources and patterns, uncovering disparities that otherwise remain concealed.
“We should think about exposure heterogeneity when we think about quantifying people’s cumulative PFAS burden to make sure that things are fair for everybody,” said Dr. Shelley Liu, lead author of the study.
What remains unknown: While the study found that Asian Americans exhibited higher PFAS levels, the reasons for this disparity remain unclear. Fish consumption, a significant source of PFAS exposure, is thought to play a role.
Variations in PFAS usage and regulations across different countries are also potential causes. The study suggests that failure to refine PFAS measurement algorithms might impede efforts to mitigate health impacts in vulnerable communities.