The adverse health effects of PFAS exposure, backed by science

Michael Bartlett

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on July 24th, 2023

As a class of over 9,000 synthetic chemicals used to make items resistant to heat, water, and stains, PFAS are persistent and emerging contaminants. When present in drinking water sources, they can negatively affect the health of consumers, as they remain in the body for a long time.

The chemicals known as PFAS are used in industrial applications and found in consumer products such as clothing, cosmetics, food packaging, cookware, and carpets, but also in the firefighting foam AFFF, which sometimes contains 98% PFAS. Communities are mostly exposed to these harmful substances by drinking contaminated water. There is not enough research to establish safe exposure limits for each PFAS. However, trace doses of PFOA and PFOS have been associated with adverse health effects, and a large number of communities across the country are detecting these chemicals and working to address contamination.

Medical research shows that PFAS affect the immune, endocrine, and metabolic systems. Still, very little is known about a majority of PFAS, including how long they linger in the body, their toxicity, and how different chemicals from this group may interact in the body. In animal and human studies, the following health effects have been shown to occur upon PFAS exposure:

  • liver effects - increased serum enzymes
  • immunological effects - decreased vaccination response
  • developmental effects - low birth weight
  • cardiovascular effects - pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • endocrine effects - thyroid disease
  • cancer - liver, testicular, pancreatic, and kidney

Up to 97% of Americans have one or more specific PFAS in their blood, particularly PFOA and PFOS. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for exposure to these dangerous chemicals, and blood testing cannot provide a clinical diagnosis or say with certainty if a person's health has been or will be affected. Laboratory animal toxicology studies and human epidemiological studies found health effects that occur due to long-term exposure to PFOA and PFOS at relevant levels.

Based on some publications available through the National Library of Medicine's PubMed database, over 100 human studies have examined associations between PFAS and a wide variety of diseases and health issues. Some effects, such as changes in liver biomarkers, serum lipids, vaccine response, uric acid levels, thyroid endpoints, and fetal growth, have been evaluated in multiple studies and populations, while only a few studies were located for many other effects.

Toxicological data from animal studies are used as the basis for nearly all human health toxicity for PFAS, with a few exceptions from Europe that are based on human data. Of the four PFAS tested for carcinogenicity in rodents in animal toxicological studies, the following caused tumors, whereas PFHxA did not:

  • PFOA - perfluorooctanoic acid
  • PFOS - perfluorooctanesulfonic acid
  • HFPO-DA - a GenX chemical

Several medical studies have reported that PFOA is associated with a high risk of kidney cancer in communities exposed to drinking toxic water. The researchers found that the association between PFOA and kidney cancer was persistent among participants diagnosed eight or more years after the initial blood collection. The link was also observed among participants with normal kidney function, which indicates that the association between PFOA and kidney cancer risk is independent of a potential impact related to compromised kidney function.

Animal models and human studies have offered strong evidence that PFAS alter the immune system, lowering the ability to fight disease or respond to vaccines. A study found that PFOS in mice, at levels similar to those in humans, could suppress the immune system. Using previously collected blood serum samples, environmental epidemiologist Philippe Grandjean tracked PFAS levels from birth in 600 children born between 1997 and 2000, but also the children's antibodies against tetanus and diphtheria. They had all been vaccinated against these diseases and should have had enough antibodies for protection.

Nevertheless, his team found that a doubling of PFOS exposure at birth was associated with a nearly 40% drop in diphtheria antibody concentration at age 5. A doubling of exposure to PFOA and PFOS at age 5 made children up to 4.2 times more likely to fall below a protective level for both diphtheria and tetanus antibodies at age 7.

Join the PFAS water contamination lawsuit with the assistance of our diligent attorneys

With over 30 years of experience in pursuing compensation for toxic exposure victims, our attorneys will gladly help you determine whether you can join our PFAS Settlement Payout Program. If your water supply has detectable levels of PFAS, you might be entitled to financial compensation from the 3M's settlement, money that will cover the cost of water testing, remediation, and treatment.

The legal process is simple and will mostly take place over the phone. Eligible water systems will immediately join the lawsuit, and if our endeavors are fruitful, they will receive the financial compensation they deserve, as no one should drink toxic water. If you are unsure about whether you qualify, do not hesitate to contact us, and we will offer you a free case evaluation.