July 21, 2024

New research has found this for the first time PFAS “forever chemicals” accumulate in the testes, and the exposure probably affects children’s health.

The toxic chemicals can damage sperm during a sensitive period of development, potentially leading to liver disease and higher cholesterol, especially in male offspring, the paper, which looked at the chemicals in mice, noted.

The research is part of a growing body of work highlighting how paternal exposure to toxic chemicals “can really affect the health, development and future disease of the next generation,” said Richard Pilsner, a Wayne State University School of Medicine researcher who co- author of the study.

“We’ve always been concerned about the environmental health effects of the mother because women bear the babies … but this research really says there is a paternal contribution to the health and development of the offspring,” Pilsner added.

PFAS is a class of about 16,000 compounds used to make products resistant to water, stains and heat. They are called “forever chemicals” because they do not break down naturally and have been found to accumulate in humans. The chemicals are linked to cancer, birth defects, liver disease, thyroid disease, declining sperm counts and a range of other serious health problems.

PFAS alters sperm DNA methylation, which is a process that turns genes on and off, Pilsner said. The methylation patterns can be inherited at conception and influence early-life development as well as offspring health later in life.

The interference can change genes in a way that affects how the liver produces cholesterol, which can lead to increased levels. Researchers also found that the chemicals affected genes related to neurodevelopment, but the study did not examine offspring for possible impact.

Although PFAS accumulate most in the blood and liver, they have been found to accumulate in organs throughout the body, as well as bones. Finding the chemicals in the testes highlights how pervasive the chemicals are in mammals’ bodies, said Michael Petriello, a Wayne State researcher and co-author.

The study looked at relatively low exposure levels compared to previous research. It also included long- and short-chain PFAS, the latter of which the industry claimed was generally safe and did not accumulate in the body. The study is one of a growing body of research showing that the “safe” PFAS can also be measured in tissue or blood in mammals.

Water and food are the two main routes of exposure to PFAS. New federal limits for some compounds in water are being implemented, but public health advocates say filtration systems can limit exposure. Men can protect themselves by avoiding non-stick cookware and waterproof clothing, and by educating themselves about products in which PFAS are commonly used.

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