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PFAS Exposure and Health Effects: All about PFOS and PFOA in Blood Tests

  • 11 / 01 / 2024 0
PFAS Exposure and Health Effects: All about PFOS and PFOA in Blood Tests

PFAS are chemicals that are widespread in the environment and in everyday products, and can have adverse health effects such as influencing the immune system and liver function. Exposure occurs primarily through food and water, and the effects of many PFAS are still unclear.

  • What are PFAS and why are they a problem?

    • PFAS are a group of organic compounds, with well-known examples such as PFOS and PFOA.
    • They come from industrial emissions, such as from the 3M plant.
    • PFAS are persistent in the environment, contaminating soil and water, and can enter food, drinking water and through the air.
    • Humans are exposed to PFAS through food, water, air and skin contact, and it can also be transmitted through the placenta and breast milk.
    • PFAS are present in consumer products such as packaging materials, lubricants, firefighting foams, non-stick coatings, clothing, cosmetics, etc.
    • Some PFAS may be harmful to human health, while little is known about many other PFAS.
  • What health effects can PFAS have?

    • PFAS such as PFOS and PFOA can have long-term adverse health effects.
    • Possible effects include impact on the immune system, development of the unborn child, increased cholesterol, and disruption of liver function.
    • There are also potential health effects that have been demonstrated in animals but for which there is less evidence in humans, such as effects on reproduction, blood pressure, hormone balance, child growth and behavior, and increased cancer risk.
  • Blood sampling and PFAS

    • Blood sampling can show how much a person has been exposed to PFAS, both recently and in the past.
    • However, it is inconclusive as to whether this exposure caused health damage.
  • Interpretation of individual results of PFAS in blood

    • There are guideline values for PFOS and PFOA in blood, intended to assess individual values.
    • These values indicate whether action is needed or not, but do not necessarily mean health harm if the values are exceeded.
  • Role of general practitioners

    • Family physicians can explain what the results of a blood test mean.
    • There is no treatment to remove PFAS from the body, but limiting exposure can help.
    • General practitioners can advise on reducing exposure and monitoring health parameters.
  • Reducing exposure to PFAS

    • Varied food and safe drinking water are essential, despite the presence of PFAS.
    • Limiting PFAS exposure can be done by paying attention to purchasing products without PFAS and following specific precautions.
  • The reference or guideline values for PFAS in blood, as described in the information provided, are specifically established for two known PFAS compounds: PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid). These values are used to assess whether exposure to these compounds can be potentially harmful to health. Here is a summary of the key points:

    1. HBM Values (Human Biomonitoring Values):

      • These values are used to track and assess individual readings.
    2. Guideline values for PFOS and PFOA:

      • HBM-I (Control Value):
        • For PFOS: 5 µg/l
        • For PFOA: 2 µg/l
        • These values apply to everyone regardless of age or gender.
      • HBM-II (Action Value):
        • For women of childbearing age (12-51 years):
          • PFOS: 10 µg/l
          • PFOA: 5 µg/l
        • For all others (women 51 years and older and all men):
          • PFOS: 20 µg/l
          • PFOA: 10 µg/l
        • These values are seen as a signal of possible increased health risks.
    3. Interpretation of Results:

      • Under HBM-I: No increased risk of adverse health effects, no specific actions required.
      • Between HBM-I and HBM-II: Increased risk of adverse health effects cannot be ruled out, recommended to avoid exposure to PFAS.
      • Above HBM-II: Increased risk of long-term adverse health effects possible, recommended to avoid exposure to PFAS and consider medical follow-up if necessary.

    These values are important for interpreting blood test results and taking appropriate action. However, they do not provide a definitive statement about an individual's health status, but rather an indication of the degree of exposure and the possible need for further action or follow-up.


  • What is the difference between PFAS and PFOS?

The terms "PFOA" and "PFOS" refer to two specific chemicals within the larger group of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are often associated with environmental and health concerns. Here is an overview of the differences between PFOA and PFOS:

  • PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid):

PFOA is a synthetic perfluorine compound used in the production of fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water.
For example, it has been used in the production of Teflon (non-stick cookware), as well as in some fire-retardant foams and other industrial applications.
PFOA is highly persistent in the environment and in the human body, meaning it does not degrade and can accumulate over time.
Health effects associated with PFOA include increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver function, negative effects on reproduction and development, and possible increases in the risk of some cancers.
PFOS (Perfluorooctane sulfonate):

PFOS is another synthetic perfluorine compound, once widely used in consumer products such as water repellents, some fire retardant foams, lubricants, paints, and in some industrial processes.
Like PFOA, PFOS is extremely persistent in the environment and in the human body.
The health effects of PFOS may be similar to those of PFOA, including impact on the liver, disruption of reproduction and development, changes in thyroid hormone levels, and possible increase in the risk of certain cancers.
Key Differences:

Chemical Structure:

Although both belong to the PFAS family, they differ in their specific chemical structure. PFOA contains a chain of eight carbon atoms (hence the "octa" in the name), while PFOS contains a chain of eight carbon atoms with a sulfonate group.
Uses and Applications: They have been used in different, but sometimes overlapping, industrial and consumer products.
Environmental and Health Effects: Both substances have been identified as of concern because of their persistence and potential for health effects, but the specific risks and mechanisms may differ somewhat.
In recent years, the use of both PFOA and PFOS has been heavily regulated and reduced in many countries because of their environmental and health risks.



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