Delayed discovery, dissemination, and decisions on intervention in environmental health: a case study on immunotoxicity of perfluorinated alkylate substances

Environ Health. 2018 Jul 31;17(1):62. doi: 10.1186/s12940-018-0405-y.


Identification and characterization of environmental hazards that impact human health must rely on the best possible science to inform and inspire appropriate public health intervention. The perfluorinated alkylate substances (PFASs) are persistent emerging pollutants that are now being recognized as important human health hazards. Although the PFASs have been produced for over 60 years, academic research on environmental health aspects has appeared only in the most recent 10 years or so. In the meantime, these persistent chemicals accumulated in the global environment. Some early studies e.g., on population exposures and toxicity, were not released to the public until after year 2000. Still, the first PFAS risk assessments ignored these reports and relied on scant journal publications. The first guidelines and legal limits for PFAS exposure, e.g., from drinking water, were proposed 10 years ago. They have decreased substantially since then, but remain higher than suggested by data on human adverse effects, especially on the immune system, that occur at background exposure levels. By now, the best-known PFASs are being phased out, and related PFASs are being introduced as substitutes. Given the substantial delays in discovery of PFAS toxicity, in dissemination of findings, and in regulatory decisions, PFAS substitutes and other persistent industrial chemicals should be subjected to prior scrutiny before widespread usage.

Publication types

  • Editorial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Environmental Health*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Fluorocarbons / toxicity*
  • Humans


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Fluorocarbons