20% of children live with unsafe levels of PFAs – study

Science and Health

One in five children have traces of PFAS (Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances) in their body that are above the European Food and Safety Authority’s safety limits, a new study has found.

The peer-reviewed study, published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, found that the excessive interaction of PFAS within the human body is having lasting effects. 

What are PFAS?

PFAS is a category group for synthetic chemicals which can be found in everyday products like clothing, cosmetics and kitchenware. It began being widely used in consumer products in the 1940s.

The synthetic materials do not break down over time at a fast rate, which leads to it accumulating in the human body and in nature. It has been found to have contaminated food and drinking water, which are the main sources it has used to reach humans.

Exposure to PFAS has been associated with reduced vaccine response in children, increasing the risk of exposure to deadly diseases. It has also been associated with reduced birth weight and cancer.

STUDENTS WEARING face masks return to school at Gabrieli Carmel School in Tel Aviv in February. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

How did the researchers discover this? 

The researchers used 1,094 samples taken from school children from six different schools in 2016 in Norway. The samples were taken from 645 girls and 449 boys aged 6-16 years.

The scientists looked for traces of 19 different PFA types in the samples and discovered traces of 11. 

The scientists discovered that of the 203 children, 20% of the sample base, had traces of PFAS above the German Biomonitoring Commission’s safety standard.

Higher concentrations of PFAS were found in the boys sample and the concentration was higher for the children aged below 12.

The limitations of the study

The researchers acknowledge that, despite their findings showing similar results to tests carried out in Europe and the US, the study is limited because it only analyzed data from one city in Norway.

Additionally, the majority of the children in the study came from families of higher educational backgrounds. Previous studies have shown that children from this social group, on average, have higher levels of PFAS. This could have led to the data not reflecting the entire population, but a single group within it. 

United States Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines for reducing PFA exposure

The agency recommends that individuals take the initiative to find out if PFAs are in the local drinking water. Tests can be purchased online for this. 

PFAS can also be transferred through breastfeeding, however the agency says that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risk of exposure. 

The agency also recommends avoiding or limiting consuming fish from waterways with high levels of PFAS.