PFAS exposure may delay girls' puberty, study shows

New research from the University of Cincinnati has found that exposure to perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) can delay the onset of puberty in girls.    

The study examined 823 girls aged 6-8 years old from the Greater Cincinnati area and San Francisco Bay Area, two regions that are significantly contaminated with PFAS. Researchers measured PFAS levels in the girls and tracked physical signs of puberty over several years.    

The results showed that 85% of the girls across both areas had detectable PFAS in their bodies. Over 99% tested positive for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), one of the most prevalent PFAS compounds.    

Girls with higher PFAS levels were found to have decreased sex hormone levels consistent with delayed puberty. On average, puberty started around 5-6 months later for these girls compared to those with lower exposures. Some individuals experienced even greater delays.    

Lead author Dr. Susan Pinney said this study is the first to directly link PFAS exposure to alterations in hormone levels that influence the timing of puberty. Previous research had only associated PFAS with pubertal effects. Dr. Pinney warned that delaying the start of puberty extends the "window of susceptibility" where girls face greater risks for long-term health issues like breast cancer, kidney disease, and thyroid problems.    

While some action has been taken to reduce PFAS use, Dr. Pinney said regulatory agencies have been slow to acknowledge the chemicals' toxicity despite decades of evidence. Full cleanup will take significant time and resources given how widely and persistently PFAS persist in the environment.    

The new research adds to growing calls for stronger restrictions on PFAS chemicals to protect public health, especially that of vulnerable groups like children. More research is still needed to fully understand the implications of PFAS exposures during development.    



Environmental Health Perspectives