Exposure to Perfluoroalkyl Substances and Mortality for COVID-19: A Spatial Ecological Analysis in the Veneto Region (Italy)

By Catelan D, Biggeri A, Russo F, Gregori D, Pitter G, Re FD, Fletcher T, and Canova C.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health
March 12, 2021
DOI: 10.3390/ijerph18052734

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is interest in assessing if per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exposures are associated with any increased risk of COVID-19 or its severity, given the evidence of immunosuppression by some PFAS. The objective of this paper is to evaluate at the ecological level if a large area (Red Zone) of the Veneto Region, where residents were exposed for decades to drinking water contaminated by PFAS, showed higher mortality for COVID-19 than the rest of the region. Methods: We fitted a Bayesian ecological regression model with spatially and not spatially structured random components on COVID-19 mortality at the municipality level (period between 21 February and 15 April 2020). The model included education score, background all-cause mortality (for the years 2015–2019), and an indicator for the Red Zone. The two random components are intended to adjust for potential hidden confounders. Results: The COVID-19 crude mortality rate ratio for the Red Zone was 1.55 (90% Confidence Interval 1.25; 1.92). From the Bayesian ecological regression model adjusted for education level and baseline all-cause mortality, the rate ratio for the Red Zone was 1.60 (90% Credibility Interval 0.94; 2.51). Conclusion: In conclusion, we observed a higher mortality risk for COVID-19 in a population heavily exposed to PFAS, which was possibly explained by PFAS immunosuppression, bioaccumulation in lung tissue, or pre-existing disease being related to PFAS.


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