Temporal Shifts in Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) in North Atlantic Pilot Whales Indicate Large Contribution of Atmospheric Precursors

Environ Sci Technol. 2017 Apr 18;51(8):4512-4521. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.7b00293. Epub 2017 Mar 28.


Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are persistent, bioaccumulative anthropogenic compounds associated with adverse health impacts on humans and wildlife. PFAS production changed in North America and Europe around the year 2000, but impacts on wildlife appear to vary across species and location. Unlike other mammal species, cetaceans lack the enzyme for transforming an important intermediate precursor (perfluorooctane sulfonamide: FOSA), into a prevalent compound in most wildlife (perfluorooctanesulfonate: PFOS). Thus, their tissue burden differentiates these two compounds while other mammals contain PFOS from both direct exposure and precursor degradation. Here we report temporal trends in 15 PFASs measured in muscle from juvenile male North Atlantic pilot whales (Globicephala melas) harvested between 1986 and 2013. FOSA accounted for a peak of 84% of the 15 PFASs around 2000 but declined to 34% in recent years. PFOS and long-chained PFCAs (C9-C13) increased significantly over the whole period (2.8% yr-1 to 8.3% yr-1), but FOSA declined by 13% yr-1 after 2006. Results from FOSA partitioning and bioaccumulation modeling forced by changes in atmospheric inputs reasonably capture magnitudes and temporal patterns in FOSA concentrations measured in pilot whales. Rapid changes in atmospheric FOSA in polar and subpolar regions around 2000 helps to explain large declines in PFOS exposure for species that metabolize FOSA, including seafood consuming human populations. This work reinforces the importance of accounting for biological exposures to PFAS precursors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Alkanesulfonic Acids
  • Animals
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Fluorocarbons*
  • Humans
  • Sulfonamides
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Whales, Pilot*


  • Alkanesulfonic Acids
  • Fluorocarbons
  • Sulfonamides
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical