'Forever Chemicals' Disrupt Biological Processes in Children: Study

Ralph Ellis

February 24, 2023

Exposure to "forever chemicals" widely used in consumer products disrupts important biological processes in children and young adults, a new study says.

One key finding was that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, hurt thyroid hormone function, which affects growth and metabolism, said the study published in Environmental Health Perspectives. That could leave children vulnerable to numerous diseases later in life, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, the study said.

Another important finding was that the disruption appeared to be caused by a mixture of PFAS, rather than a single chemical of that type.

PFAS are known as "forever chemicals" because they don't break down easily over time and persist in water, soil, and the body. They're used in numerous consumer products, such as nonstick cookware, stain-resistant carpeting, cosmetics, and water-repellent clothing. 

PFAS have previously been linked to a host of health issues, including decreased birth weights and immune system problems. To the study authors' knowledge, this study is the first to evaluate which biological processes are altered by exposure to multiple PFAS, said a news release from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

Researchers studied blood samples from 312 children from the Study of Latino Adolescents at Risk and 137 children from the Southern California Children's Health Study. All the children had a mixture of common PFAS in their blood, including PFOS, PFHxS, PFHpS, PFOA, and PFNA.

"While current interventions have focused on phasing out the use of individual PFAS, such as PFOS and PFOA, this research shows why the focus should be on reducing exposure to all PFAS chemicals," said Leda Chatzi, MD, a professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine. Chatzi is also one of the study authors. 

In October 2021, the Biden administration announced a plan to reduce the amount of PFAS released into the into the air, drinking and ground water, and the food supply chain. 


Environmental Health Perspectives: "Metabolic Signatures of Youth Exposure to Mixtures of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances: A Multi-Cohort Study."

Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California: "Keck School of Medicine study finds 'forever chemicals' disrupt key biological processes."

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: "PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA's Commitments to Action 2021-2024."


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