Drinking water contamination from perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS): an ecological mortality study in the Veneto Region, Italy

Eur J Public Health. 2018 Feb 1;28(1):180-185. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/ckx066.


Background: Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a heterogeneous group of highly stable man-made chemicals, have been widely used since 1960s and can be detected almost ubiquitously in all environmental matrices. In Italy, on January 2014, drinking water contamination in an area of the Veneto Region was detected mainly due to the drain of fluorinated chemicals by a manufacturing company operating since 1964.

Methods: The present ecological mortality study was aimed at comparing mortality for some causes of death selected on the basis of previous reported associations, during the period 1980-2013, in municipalities with PFAS contaminated and uncontaminated drinking water on the basis of the levels indicated by the Italian National Health Institute (ISS). Sex-specific number, standardized mortality rates and rate ratios (RR) for PFAS contaminated and uncontaminated areas were computed for each cause of death through the ENEA epidemiological database.

Results: In both sexes, statistically significant RRs were detected for all causes mortality, diabetes, cerebrovascular diseases, myocardial infarction and Alzheimer's disease. In females, RRs significantly higher than 1.0 were also observed for kidney and breast cancer, and Parkinson's disease. Increased risk, although not statistically significant, was observed for bladder cancer in both sexes, and for testicular cancer, pancreatic cancer and leukemia in males only.

Conclusions: Higher mortality levels for some causes of death, possibly associated with PFAS exposure, were detected in contaminated municipalities in comparison with uncontaminated ones with similar socioeconomic status and smoking habits. These results warrant further individual level analytic studies to delineate casual associations.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cities
  • Death*
  • Drinking Water / analysis*
  • Environmental Monitoring / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Fluorocarbons / poisoning*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Pollution / analysis
  • Young Adult


  • Drinking Water
  • Fluorocarbons
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical