PFAS may disrupt bone development in children and young adults, study finds

By Shannon Kelleher

Exposure to a widespread, toxic chemical called PFOS may interfere with bone development in children and young adults, potentially putting them at higher risk for osteoporosis and other bone problems later in life, according to a new study that focused mainly on Hispanic individuals from southern California.

Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), a widespread type of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), was associated with lower bone mineral density in a group of 328 overweight Hispanic children and in a group of 158 young adults of mixed ethnicity. The study, published Dec. 6 in the journal Environmental Research, was unique in that it tracked associations between bone density and PFAS blood serum levels over time.

“Existing research had established associations between PFAS and bone health, but previous studies, most of them only collected information at one time point from participants,” said Emily Beglarian, a PhD student at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine and the lead author of the study. “Additionally, many existing studies were focused on non-Hispanic, white participants and many focused on older adults.”

Although Hispanic people are at high risk for developing osteoporosis as adults, they are often not included in research on bone health, said Beglarian.

There are over 12,000 PFAS chemicals, which do not break down naturally and have been found in at least 45% of US tap water, according to the US Geological Survey, and in the blood of about 97% of Americans, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Exposure to PFAS has previously been linked to numerous health problems, including kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, thyroid cancer, and ulcerative colitis.