PFAS: understanding the persistent chemicals

PFAS, also called "forever chemicals," are highly resistant because they are made of substances that are unlikely to break down in the environment, and new research has found that they may increase the risk of developing thyroid cancer

PFAS, short for per- and perfluorinated alkylated substances, are chemicals first produced in the 1940s and have been used in a variety of consumer and industrial products, including non-stick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics, and firefighting foam. These chemicals are characterized by a strong carbon-fluorine bond, which prevents them from easily breaking down in the environment, allowing them to persist for many years.

As these chemicals have been utilized across a broad range of products, they can be found in drinking water, household dust, and even human blood. Some of these substances have been linked to a significant 56% increased risk of thyroid cancer diagnoses.

Researchers, including Maaike van Gerwen, co-author of the study and director of research for the Department of Otolaryngology at the Icahn School of Medicine, have identified a correlation between PFAS chemical exposure and the risk of this type of cancer. Van Gerwen states,

“As far as we know, this is the first human study to examine the associations between PFAS exposure and thyroid cancer risk.”

The study

The research team investigated the connections between PFAS levels in individuals’ blood plasma and thyroid cancer diagnoses. The study involved 88 thyroid cancer patients and 88 control patients, matched by sex, race, age, smoking habits, and body mass index. The researchers examined how the levels of eight PFAS chemicals affected the health of these two reference groups.

It was discovered that n-PFOS led to a 56% increased risk of thyroid cancer. There was also a positive association found between thyroid cancer risk and exposure to other PFAS, including branched perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, perfluorononanoic acid, perfluorooctylphosphonic acid, and linear perfluorohexanesulfonic acid. This study is the first to uncover such a significant correlation between PFOS exposure and thyroid cancer diagnosis.

Moreover, these toxic substances have also been linked to increases in cholesterol and blood pressure, reduced immunity, and a heightened risk of other cancers, such as renal and testicular cancers.

Where PFAS are found

PFAS are a group of synthetic chemical compounds known for their heat, water, and stain resistance properties. These characteristics have made them highly popular in a vast range of industrial applications and consumer products. They can be found in non-stick cookware, water and stain-resistant fabrics, fabric care products, firefighting foams, and some types of food packaging.

Their presence is not limited to the products in which they are used; due to their extreme persistence, PFAS have spread into the environment, contaminating water, soil, and even the air. Moreover, due to their ubiquity, they have been detected in household dust and biological tissues, including human blood. This widespread environmental presence and their resistance to degradation make them a significant public health concern globally.

Source: eBioMedicine

The article draws upon studies published and recommendations from international institutions and/or experts. We do not make claims in the medical-scientific field and report the facts as they are. Sources are indicated at the end of each article.
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