Study finds PFAS exposure may delay puberty in girls

Research conducted by the University of Cincinnati has revealed that exposure to PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) may lead to a delay in the onset of puberty in girls, as published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal.

Susan Pinney, Ph.D., from the Department of Environmental and Public Health Sciences at UC College of Medicine and the study’s corresponding author, emphasizes that this research is the first of its kind to explore the role of hormones in this delay. This delayed puberty, she warns, can have detrimental long-term health consequences, including an increased risk of breast cancer, renal disease, and thyroid disease.

Pinney underscores the importance of puberty as a vulnerable period for environmental exposures’ long-term health effects. She notes that PFAS exposure has extended this susceptibility window, making girls more vulnerable for an extended duration.

The study involved 823 girls, aged 6 to 8 when enrolled, with 379 from the Greater Cincinnati area and 444 from the San Francisco Bay Area. Researchers aimed to initiate the study before the onset of breast development and monitored the girls every six to 12 months to track the emergence of breast development and pubic hair.

Results indicated that 85% of girls in both cohorts had measurable PFAS levels. Pinney highlights the uniqueness of this study for including a hormone component and discovering evidence of decreased hormones, which aligns with the delayed onset of puberty.

The study found that, on average, girls with PFAS exposure experienced a delay in puberty of about five to six months. However, there were cases where the delay was more pronounced, raising concerns, especially for those at the extreme end of the spectrum.

Furthermore, over 99% of girls in both cohorts had measurable levels of PFOA, a significant PFAS compound.

Pinney points out that Greater Cincinnati’s PFAS exposure can be attributed to factors such as the Ohio River, a main drinking water source, and historical PFAS discharges from a DuPont plant near Parkersburg, West Virginia. PFAS were also present in firefighting foam, and a nearby firefighting training ground contributed to the contamination.

She questions how the United States reached this point, considering the known dangers of PFAS, and emphasizes the absence of the “precautionary principle” in U.S. regulatory practices. This principle suggests resisting the introduction of new products or processes with disputed or unknown long-term effects.

Pinney highlights that PFAS are persistent and do not naturally degrade, necessitating ongoing efforts to find methods to break down these chemicals. She expresses frustration with the slow pace of regulatory changes and calls for scientists to be more proactive in communicating their findings to regulators and the public.

In conclusion, while efforts toward environmental cleanup have commenced, they come with significant costs.

Source: University of Cincinnati

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