Prenatal and childhood exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and child executive function and behavioral problems

By Maria H Harris, Emily Oken, Sheryl L Rifas-Shiman, Antonia M Calafat, David C Bellinger, Thomas F Webster, Roberta F White, and Sharon K Sagiv
Environ Res
July 13, 2021
DOI: 10.1016/j.envres.2021.111621

Early life exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) may adversely impact neurodevelopment, but epidemiological findings are inconsistent. In the Project Viva pre-birth cohort, we examined associations of prenatal and childhood PFAS plasma concentrations with parent and teacher assessments of children's behavior problems [Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ)] and executive function abilities [Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF)] at age 6-10 years (sample sizes 485-933). PFAS concentrations in pregnant Project Viva mothers (in 1999-2002) and children at ages 6-10 (in 2007-10) were similar to concentrations at similar time points in women and children in the nationally representative U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. We observed no consistent associations of prenatal PFAS concentrations with behavior or executive function. Childhood concentrations of perfluorooctanoate (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS), perfluorononanoate (PFNA) and perfluorodecanoate (PFDA) were associated with higher parent-rated SDQ Total Difficulties scores (mean = 6.7, standard deviation (SD) = 4.9), suggesting greater behavioral problems (top (Q4) versus bottom (Q1) quartile PFOA: 1.5, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.3, 2.7; PFOS: 1.4, 95% CI: 0.3, 2.5; PFHxS: 1.2, 95% CI: 0.1, 2.3; PFNA: 1.2, 95% CI: 0.1, 2.2; PFDA: 1.1, 95% CI: 0.0, 1.1); teacher-rated SDQ scores did not show associations. Higher childhood PFOS was associated with higher (indicating more problems) parent-rated BRIEF General Executive Composite (GEC) scores (standardized to mean = 50, SD = 10) (Q4 vs. Q1: 2.4, 95% CI: 0.2, 4.6), while teacher BRIEF GEC scores indicated more problems among children with higher PFHxS (Q4 vs. Q1: 3.5, 95% CI: -0.8, 6.3). There were no consistent patterns of sexual dimorphism in associations. In a cohort of U.S. children, we observed cross-sectional associations of childhood PFAS concentrations with greater behavioral and executive function problems, but no consistent associations with prenatal PFAS.

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