Read the full article by Tom Perkins (The Guardian)
“Asian Americans likely have much higher levels of ‘forever chemicals’ in their blood than other US races and ethnicities, research using a novel method for measuring PFAS exposure finds.
The peer-reviewed study factored sociodemographic, dietary and behavioral characteristics into its algorithm, which makes it more sensitive to exposure differences among cultures than the standard methods used by the US government and most of the scientific community.
The median level of PFAS was 88% higher for Asian Americans than non-Hispanic whites, the research shows, a finding more commonly used methods miss.
‘We should think about exposure heterogeneity when we think about quantifying people’s cumulative PFAS burden to make sure that things are fair for everybody,’ said Shelley Liu, a PFAS researcher and study lead author with Mount Sinai.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 15,000 compounds most frequently used to make products water-, stain- and grease-resistant. They have been linked to cancer, birth defects, decreased immunity, high cholesterol, kidney disease and a range of other serious health problems. They are dubbed ‘forever chemicals’ because they do not naturally break down in the environment.
The federal government estimates virtually all Americans have some level of the compounds in their blood, but the technology to measure PFAS in blood only exists for about 40 types of the chemical.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently for the first time implemented recommendations on when people who have been exposed to PFAS should be offered medical testing, but it only bases its guidelines off of eight common chemicals. The academy’s report also gives advice for clinicians to reduce their patients’ exposure to these chemicals.
While that approach provides good broad, population level information, Liu said, it does not take into account the thousands of other chemicals that population subsets in the US may be exposed to for varying reasons, which are accounted for under the more sensitive methodology, called item response theory.
It is unclear why Asian Americans have higher levels in their blood, Liu said, adding that more research is needed. However, fish is a major source of PFAS exposure and it’s thought that populations with higher levels of seafood in their diets generally have higher levels of PFAS in their blood.
Immigration history likely also plays a role, Liu said – different countries use different PFAS and have varying regulations. Failing to change the algorithm for how PFAS burden is measured in humans will leave clinicians and scientists ‘less effective in helping vulnerable communities reduce their PFAS burden’, Liu said.
‘Then we may be missing a population where we could intervene to reduce health impacts of PFAS,’ she added.
The research also found lower income Asian Americans have higher median PFAS levels in their blood than wealthier counterparts, but higher income people in the broader population generally showed an elevated burden.
The study found no statistical disparity in PFAS levels of non-Hispanic Black and white people, and Mexican Americans had lower levels than white. The findings show ‘how with a bit more of a rigorous approach in research we may be able to uncover disparities [among] populations’, Liu said.”