agriculture | Environment/Ecosystem

Emory University Will Be Studying Human Health Impact Of PFAS Chemical Exposure

Published: March 1, 2023

The UL Research Institutes’ Chemical Insights Research Institute (CIRI) and Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health have announced a collaboration to study human exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 97 percent of Americans have detectable PFAS levels in their blood. The goal of the collaborative study is to better understand how this exposure occurs and the potential health consequences.

Although humans may be exposed to PFAS by ingesting contaminated food or water or breathing contaminated air, few studies have focused on the use of everyday consumer and occupational products containing these chemicals and whether this poses a risk to human exposure. Certain performance textiles, such as those used for consumer and occupational wearables, as well as those used forPFAS chemicals are frequently used in upholstered furniture and interior furnishings to increase durability and protect against soil and moisture.

“There are thousands of different PFAS, commonly known as forever chemicals, with widespread usage and application in our everyday products,” says Dr. Marilyn Black, vice president and executive director of CIRI. The same properties that make PFAS chemicals appealing to consumers and businesses also contribute to their long-term persistence in human bodies.”

Limited studies have shown that foetal development and cognitive and mental capacity of young children may be altered by PFAS chemicals, and some have demonstrated weak links between PFAS exposure and the development of certain cancers. There is also growing evidence that PFAS may harm male and female reproductive health. CIRI’s research will concentrate on on the presence of PFAS in textiles, including consumer wearables and firefighter gear, and how these chemicals pose a risk to human health. “Research emphasis will include identification of specific PFAS chemicals in the materials, their levels, and how they can potentially enter the human body,” say Dr. Dana Barr and Dr. Barry Ryan, professors in the Rollins School of Public Health and co-principal investigators. To the best of our knowledge, this will be one of the first studies to focus on PFAS exposure through textile contact. Knowing about such exposures can help us understand the role of such materials in overall exposure to these ubiquitous chemical compounds.”

Emory will contribute its expertise in PFAS chemical identification and measurement, as well as CIRI. will use human exposure chambers and techniques to assess inhalation, ingestion, and dermal transfer risks associated with the products. The knowledge gained will aid in understanding potential health effects as well as how material design and use contribute to human exposure risks. This data could lead to strategic risk-reduction measures.

The cutting-edge PFAS research being conducted by CIRI and the Rollins School of Public Health contributes to the UL Research Institutes’ goal of advancing safety science for societal well-being.

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