Environmental research

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), an emerging drinking water contaminant: a critical review of recent literature.

PMID 22560884


Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is an anthropogenic contaminant that differs in several ways from most other well-studied organic chemicals found in drinking water. PFOA is extremely resistant to environmental degradation processes and thus persists indefinitely. Unlike most other persistent and bioaccumulative organic pollutants, PFOA is water-soluble, does not bind well to soil or sediments, and bioaccumulates in serum rather than in fat. It has been detected in finished drinking water and drinking water sources impacted by releases from industrial facilities and waste water treatment plants, as well as in waters with no known point sources. However, the overall occurrence and population exposure from drinking water is not known. PFOA persists in humans with a half-life of several years and is found in the serum of almost all U.S. residents and in populations worldwide. Exposure sources include food, food packaging, consumer products, house dust, and drinking water. Continued exposure to even relatively low concentrations in drinking water can substantially increase total human exposure, with a serum:drinking water ratio of about 100:1. For example, ongoing exposures to drinking water concentrations of 10 ng/L, 40 ng/L, 100 ng/L, or 400 ng/L are expected to increase mean serum levels by about 25%, 100%, 250%, and 1000%, respectively, from the general population background serum level of about 4 ng/mL. Infants are potentially a sensitive subpopulation for PFOA's developmental effects, and their exposure through breast milk from mothers who use contaminated drinking water and/or from formula prepared with contaminated drinking water is higher than in adults exposed to the same drinking water concentration. Numerous health endpoints are associated with human PFOA exposure in the general population, communities with contaminated drinking water, and workers. As is the case for most such epidemiology studies, causality for these effects is not proven. Unlike most other well-studied drinking water contaminants, the human dose-response curve for several effects appears to be steepest at the lower exposure levels, including the general population range, with no apparent threshold for some endpoints. There is concordance in animals and humans for some effects, while humans and animals appear to react differently for other effects such as lipid metabolism. PFOA was classified as "likely to be carcinogenic in humans" by the USEPA Science Advisory Board. In animal studies, developmental effects have been identified as more sensitive endpoints for toxicity than carcinogenicity or the long-established hepatic effects. Notably, exposure to an environmentally relevant drinking water concentration caused adverse effects on mammary gland development in mice. This paper reviews current information relevant to the assessment of PFOA as an emerging drinking water contaminant. This information suggests that continued human exposure to even relatively low concentrations of PFOA in drinking water results in elevated body burdens that may increase the risk of health effects.