Tracking the pathways of human exposure to perfluorocarboxylates

Environ Sci Technol. 2009 Aug 1;43(15):5565-75. doi: 10.1021/es900228k.


Recent analyses of perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) in human blood sera show that the background-exposed population in industrialized countries worldwide exhibits a narrow concentration range; arithmetic means of published studies range between 2 and 8 microg/L PFOA, with the exception of a few outlier studies. The globally comparable human serum concentrations of PFOA and characteristic dominance of PFOA with respect to other perfluorocarboxylate (PFCA) homologues indicate that exposure pathways of humans differ from those of wildlife, where perfluorononanoate (PFNA) is often the dominant homologue. The observed correlations between perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and PFOA in human serum together with a simultaneous downward time trend of these compounds in human blood sera and blood spots from the year 2000 onward indicate a connection between historical perfluorooctanesulfonyl (POSF) production (phased out by the major manufacturer in 2000-2002) and exposure to both PFOS and PFOA. A comparison of estimated daily intakes to humans based on samples from exposure media (collected post 2000) indicates that food intake is the major contemporary exposure pathway for the background population, whereas drinking water exposure is dominant for populations near sources of contaminated drinking water. A one-compartment pharmacokinetic model used to back-calculate daily intakes from serum levels is shown to provide agreement within a factor of 1.5-5.5 of the daily intakes derived from exposure media, which provides further supporting evidence that dietary exposure is a major ongoing exposure pathway of PFOA to the background population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Caprylates / blood
  • Caprylates / toxicity
  • Carboxylic Acids / toxicity*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood
  • Female
  • Fluorocarbons / blood
  • Fluorocarbons / toxicity
  • Food Contamination
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Time Factors
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Supply


  • Caprylates
  • Carboxylic Acids
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Fluorocarbons
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • perfluorooctanoic acid