Prospective associations of mid-childhood plasma per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and pubertal timing

By Jenny L Carwile, Shravanthi M Seshasayee, Izzuddin M Aris, Sheryl L Rifas-Shiman, Birgit Claus Henn, Antonia M Calafat, Sharon K Sagiv, Emily Oken, and Abby F Fleisch
Environ Int
July 6, 2021
DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2021.106729


Exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) may disrupt pubertal timing. Higher PFAS plasma concentrations have been associated with later pubertal timing in girls, but cross-sectional findings may be explained by reverse causation.


To assess prospective associations between PFAS plasma concentrations in mid-childhood and markers of pubertal timing in male and female adolescents.


We studied 640 children in Project Viva, a Boston-area prospective cohort. We examined associations of plasma concentrations of 6 PFAS measured at mean 7.9 (SD 0.8) years (2007-2010) with markers of pubertal timing. Parents reported a 5-item pubertal development score at early adolescence (mean 13.1 (SD 0.8) years) and reported age at menarche annually. We calculated age at peak height velocity using research and clinical measures of height. We used sex-specific linear and Cox proportional hazards regression to estimate associations of single PFAS with outcomes, and we used Bayesian Kernel Machine Regression (BKMR) to estimate associations of the PFAS mixture with outcomes.


Plasma concentrations were highest for perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) [median (IQR) 6.4(5.6) ng/mL], followed by perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) [4.4(3.0) ng/mL]. In early adolescence, girls were further along in puberty than boys [pubertal development score mean (SD) 2.9 (0.7) for girls and 2.2(0.7) for boys; age at peak height velocity mean (SD) 11.2y (1.0) for girls and 13.1y (1.0) for boys]. PFAS was associated with later markers of pubertal timing in girls only. For example, each doubling of PFOA was associated with lower pubertal development score (-0.18 units; 95% CI: -0.30, -0.06) and older age at peak height velocity (0.23 years; 95% CI: 0.06, 0.40)]. We observed similar associations for PFOS, perfluorodecanoate (PFDA), and the PFAS mixture. PFAS plasma concentrations were not associated with age at menarche or markers of pubertal timing in boys.


Higher PFAS plasma concentrations in mid-childhood were associated with later onset of puberty in girls.

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