Exposure to PFAS “Forever Chemicals” Can Interfere with Child Growth and Development: Study

Researchers warn that exposure to PFAS may impact children's metabolism in a way that increases inflammation and oxidative stress.

The findings of new research indicates that exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), commonly referred to as “forever chemicals,” can stunt a child’s physical development and increase their risk of metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity.

Researchers with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) published a study last month in Environmental Health Perspectives, which found that exposure to PFAS chemicals caused alterations in amino acid metabolism and lipid metabolism, which may inhibit child growth and development.

PFAS include over 9,000 man-made chemicals, which have been widely used in a number of products since the 1940’s, due to the ability to resist grease, oil and water. However, they are commonly referred to as “forever chemicals”, since they persist in the environment and human body, building up over time and increasing the risk of a myriad of adverse health effects, including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and cancer.

Widespread water contamination problems from PFAS have been identified in a number of communities nationwide, particularly around military bases, airports and firefighter training facilities, where large volumes of the chemicals have been dumped into the drinking water supply from aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) used to fight petroleum fires.

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In this latest study, researchers looked at 312 overweight or obese adolescents from the Study of Latino Adolescents at Risk (SOLAR) and 137 young adults from the Southern California Children’s Health Study (CHS). They looked at PFAS blood plasma levels and their metabolisms.

According to their findings, PFAS exposure was associated with alterations in tyrosine metabolism. A thyroid hormone associated with tyrosine, known as thyroxine, increased by up to 72% when levels of PFAS increased. Similarly going from low to high levels of PFAS also led to an increase in arachidonic acid, which plays a key role in the development of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and liver disease, by 81%.

“Accumulating evidence suggests that PFAS exposure is associated with an increased risk of metabolic disorders,” the researchers noted. “PFAS exposure during sensitive periods of development, such as childhood or adolescence, is of particular concern because this is an important developmental stage for cellular differentiation and development of metabolic tissues.”

The researchers indicated one proposed mechanism which could link PFAS exposure to a variety of diseases is an increase in inflammation and oxidative stress, noting that some of the metabolic changes they detected in children and young adults with high levels of PFAS in their blood were associated with inflammation and oxidative stress.

2023 PFAS Drinking Water Contamination Lawsuits Update

Manufacturers of PFAS chemicals currently face hundreds of firefighting foam lawsuits nationwide, brought by individuals diagnosed with cancer after direct contact with the chemicals during their careers as a firefighter. In addition, a growing number of PFAS water contamination lawsuits are being pursued by individuals diagnosed with ulcerative colitis or cancer, after regularly drinking water known to contain the chemicals.

Given common questions of fact and law presented in the claims, all federal water contamination lawsuits over PFAS chemicals in AFFF are currently centralized before U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel in the District of South Carolina, for coordinated discovery, pretrial proceedings and a series of early bellwether trials, which are expected to begin this year.

Early in the pretrial proceedings, Judge Gergel established a “bellwether” program that started with a group of water contamination cases going through case-specific discovery in preparation for a series of early trial dates, which are expected to begin around June 2023.

If parties do not reach a firefighting foam water contamination settlement agreement once the pretrial proceedings and bellwether test trials are completed, or the litigation is not otherwise resolved, the cases will be remanded back to their originating federal court districts for trial.


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