Not everyone is equally affected by PFAS, a group of synthetic chemicals more known as 'forever chemicals' due to their tendency to accumulate in the environment and inside the human body for decades. Researchers from Mount Sinai found that Asian Americans have a significantly higher exposure to PFAS compared to all other ethnic or racial groups in the United States.
Researchers tested the blood and urine of over 3,000 Americans and found levels of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were 89% higher in Asian Americans. While the reason for this is unclear, the researchers suggested this could be related to exposure sources, such as diets high in seafood and their occupations.
This is the first time a study accounts for complex exposure sources of different groups of people to measure the exposure forever chemicals. The findings show governments and researchers should reassess the way they analyze PFAS exposure, considering the many disparities across population sub-groups, the study authors said.
"These disparities are hidden if we use a one-size-fits-all approach to quantifying everyone's exposure burden. In order to advance precision environmental health, we need to optimally and equitably quantify exposure burden to PFAS mixtures,” Shelley Liu, professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said in a news release.
PFAS’ dangerous exposure
For the study, the researchers analyzed human biomonitoring data from the US National Health and Examination Survey, a set of studies designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children between 2013 and 2018. The studies included blood and urine samples of a sample of over 3,900 people across the US.
They then measured the level of eight types of PFAS and found a higher exposure for Asian Americans when compared to other racial groups. Among Asian Americans, the researchers found that those with a lower income had higher median PFAS levels. However, those with higher incomes still had higher levels compared to the general population.
The US government estimates that virtually all Americans have some level of forever chemicals in their blood. However, the technology to measure them only exists for about 40 types of these chemicals. There are actually over 12,000 types of PFAS. A study back in February 2023 found that at least 45% of the US tap water has one or more types of PFAS.
Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it would start regulating at least two specific types of PFAS – PFOA and PFOS. The EPA suggests water shouldn’t have over 70 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFAS, but this isn’t mandatory. Some states, such as California, have stricter rules.
Based on the data analyzed, the researchers believe that diet and occupation could have caused these disparities. However, they highlighted that it’s very difficult to trace exposure sources of the chemicals because they are so ubiquitous. They hope to continue their research by looking at how different population subgroups are affected by PFAS.