Per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS): an epidemiological study

This study will examine the exposure to and potential health effects of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the towns of Oakey in Queensland, Williamtown in New South Wales and Katherine in the Northern Territory. PFAS are environmentally persistent chemicals that can last for decades in water and soil. Studies have found evidence that higher levels of PFOS or PFOA in a person’s blood can lead to higher blood cholesterol levels; there is also evidence that exposure to PFAS may lead to a decreased response to some vaccines, may be associated with reduced kidney function, and may be associated with some cancers, particularly testicular and renal cancer.

The study is being conducted in two phases:

  • In Phase I of the epidemiological study, the ANU developed a Study Protocol and conducted a Systematic Review of the literature on the potential health effects associated with exposure to PFAS – the completed Systematic Review is available at the link below.
  • Phase II will implement the Study Protocol which will include the following four components:
    • a focus group study to determine the lived experiences and health concerns of individuals living and working in the vicinity of Williamtown, Oakey and Katherine in relation to exposure to PFAS and their health;
    • a blood serum study to define the serum PFAS concentrations (mean and range) of participating residents of Williamtown, Oakey and Katherine, and to compare blood PFAS levels to those of people residing in non-contaminated areas in similar townships in Australia;
    • a cross-sectional survey to investigate the exposure and risk factors for high serum PFAS levels, including sociodemographic (e.g. age, sex, location) and other factors (e.g. duration of residence in the area, water source), and associations of high serum PFAS levels with common symptoms, signs and diagnosed illnesses in the Williamtown, Oakey and Katherine communities; and
    • a data linkage study to examine whether sex-specific age adjusted rates of diseases potentially associated with PFAS are higher among people who have lived in the Investigation Areas of Williamtown, Oakey and Katherine, compared to those living outside the Investigation Areas and in the general Australian population. 

For more information on this project please contact pfas.health.study@anu.edu.au.