• Press Release

Mount Sinai Researchers Find Asian Americans to Have Significantly Higher Exposure to “Toxic Forever” Chemicals

  • New York, NY
  • (August 24, 2023)

Asian Americans have significantly higher exposure than other ethnic or racial groups to PFAS, a family of thousands of synthetic chemicals also known as “toxic forever” chemicals, Mount Sinai-led researchers report.

People frequently encounter PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in everyday life, and these exposures carry potentially adverse health impacts, according to the study published in Environmental Science and Technology, in the special issue “Data Science for Advancing Environmental Science, Engineering, and Technology.”

The scientists estimated a person’s total exposure burden to PFAS and accounted for the exposure heterogeneity (for example, different diets and behaviors) of different groups of people that could expose them to different sets of PFAS. They found that Asian Americans had a significantly high PFAS exposure than all other U.S. ethnic or racial groups, and that the median exposure score for Asian Americans was 89 percent higher than for non-Hispanic whites.

This is the first time that researchers accounted for complex exposure sources of different groups of people to calculate a person’s exposure burden to PFAS. To achieve this, they used advanced psychometric and data science methods called mixture item response theory. The researchers analyzed human biomonitoring data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a representative sample of the U.S. population.

This research suggests that biomonitoring and risk assessment should consider an exposure metric that takes into consideration the fact that different groups of people are exposed to many different sources and patterns of PFAS. Based on these findings, these researches believe that exposure sources, such as dietary sources and occupational exposure, may underlie the disparities in exposure burden. This will be an important topic of future work, as it is difficult to trace exposure sources to PFAS because they are so ubiquitous.

“We found that if we used a customized burden scoring approach, we could uncover some disparities in PFAS exposure burden across population sub-groups,” said Shelley Liu, PhD, Associate Professor of Population Health Science and Policy at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “These disparities are hidden if we use a one-size-fits-all approach to quantifying everyone’s exposure burden. In order to advance precision environmental health, we need to optimally and equitably quantify exposure burden to PFAS mixtures, to ensure that our exposure burden metric used are fair and informative for all people.”

PFAS pollution is a major health concern, and nearly all Americans have detectable levels of PFAS chemicals in their blood. PFAS are ubiquitous, and are used in products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. The Biden administration has allocated $9 billion to PFAS clean-up, and in March 2023, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first enforceable federal standards to regulate PFAS contamination in public drinking water.

In the future, Dr. Liu’s team plans to incorporate toxicity information on each PFAS chemical into exposure burden scoring, to further evaluate disparities in toxicity-informed exposure burden in vulnerable groups and population subgroups.

The research was funded by the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) R03ES033374 and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) K25HD104918.

About the Mount Sinai Health System

Mount Sinai Health System is one of the largest academic medical systems in the New York metro area, with 48,000 employees working across eight hospitals, more than 400 outpatient practices, more than 600 research and clinical labs, a school of nursing, and a leading school of medicine and graduate education. Mount Sinai advances health for all people, everywhere, by taking on the most complex health care challenges of our time—discovering and applying new scientific learning and knowledge; developing safer, more effective treatments; educating the next generation of medical leaders and innovators; and supporting local communities by delivering high-quality care to all who need it.

Through the integration of its hospitals, labs, and schools, Mount Sinai offers comprehensive health care solutions from birth through geriatrics, leveraging innovative approaches such as artificial intelligence and informatics while keeping patients’ medical and emotional needs at the center of all treatment. The Health System includes approximately 9,000 primary and specialty care physicians and 11 free-standing joint-venture centers throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida. Hospitals within the System are consistently ranked by Newsweek’s® “The World’s Best Smart Hospitals, Best in State Hospitals, World Best Hospitals and Best Specialty Hospitals” and by U.S. News & World Report's® “Best Hospitals” and “Best Children’s Hospitals.” The Mount Sinai Hospital is on the U.S. News & World Report® “Best Hospitals” Honor Roll for 2023-2024.

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