PFAS Exposure Pathways for Humans and Wildlife: A Synthesis of Current Knowledge and Key Gaps in Understanding

By Amila O De Silva, James M Armitage, Thomas A Bruton, Clifton Dassuncao, Wendy Heiger-Bernays, Xindi C Hu, Anna Kärrman, Barry Kelly, Carla Ng, Anna Robuck, Mei Sun, Thomas F Webster, and Elsie M Sunderland
Environ Toxicol Chem
November 16, 2020
DOI: 10.1002/etc.4935

Here we synthesize current understanding of the magnitudes and methods for assessing human and wildlife exposures to poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Most human exposure assessments have focused on two to five legacy PFAS and wildlife assessments are typically limited to targeted PFAS (up to ~30 substances). However, shifts in chemical production are occurring rapidly and targeted methods for detecting PFAS have not kept pace with these changes. Total fluorine (TF) measurements complemented by suspect screening using high resolution mass spectrometry are thus emerging as essential tools for PFAS exposure assessment. Such methods enable researchers to better understand contributions from precursor compounds that degrade into terminal perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAA). Available data suggest that diet is the major human exposure pathway for some PFAS but there is large variability across populations and PFAS compounds. Additional data on TF in exposure media and the fraction of unidentified organofluorine are needed. Drinking water has been established as the major exposure source in contaminated communities. As water supplies are remediated, and for the general population, exposures from dust, personal care products, indoor environments and other sources may be more important. A major challenge for exposure assessments is the lack of statistically representative population surveys. For wildlife, bioaccumulation processes differ substantially between PFAS and neutral lipophilic organic compounds, prompting a revaluation of traditional bioaccumulation metrics. There is evidence that both phospholipids and proteins are important for the tissue partitioning and accumulation of PFAS. New mechanistic models for PFAS bioaccumulation are being developed that will assist in wildlife risk evaluations. 

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