In the the Harvard study, researchers used plasma samples from 323 Danish people between the ages of 30 and 70 who were infected with the coronavirus and had levels of PFAS in their blood. The data also included other health information and demographic variables.
PFAS concentrations were higher in men, subjects with Western European background and increase with age, but were not associated with the presence of chronic disease, according to researchers. One hundred eight ― 33% ― of the participants had not been hospitalized. Of those who’d spent time in the hospital, 16% had been in the ICU or died.
Among five PFAS compounds that researchers analyzed in the participants’ blood, those with elevated levels of perfluorobutyrate, or PFBA, were more than two times likely to have increase severity of coronavirus. Among the study participants who were hospitalized, they were five times more likely to be admitted to the ICU or die, based on blood samples obtained at the time the patients were diagnosed up to one week prior, researchers found.
PFAS in general weakens the immune system’s response to infection. However, PFBA in particular builds up in the lungs, which is an organ that COVID-19 infects. So that’s why elevated levels of PFAS may lead to more severe cases of the coronavirus, Burdette said.
In a recent statewide study, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency detected levels of PFAS in 24 Southwest Ohio public drinking water systems. That includes Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center’s water system in Dayton, whose PFAS level is 94 parts per trillion. The EPA’s action level is 70 ppt.
The pandemic, the presence of PFAS in the region and the Harvard study should not cause residents to make major lifestyle changes, although they need to remain diligent and continue to educate themselves, Burdette said, reiterating the fact that more research is needed.
“This study has gotten a lot of interest, and when that happens, the small studies lead to better studies,” he said. “So, I’m sure throughout the world there are probably more groups now that are on a bigger scale looking at this, and will hopefully get us more definitive data.”