Application of benchmark analysis for mixed contaminant exposures: Mutual adjustment of perfluoroalkylate substances associated with immunotoxicity

PLoS One. 2018 Oct 19;13(10):e0205388. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0205388. eCollection 2018.


Background: Developmental exposure to perfluorinated alkylate substances (PFASs) is associated with deficient IgG antibody responses to childhood vaccines. As this immunotoxicity outcome may represent a critical effect, calculation of benchmark dose (BMD) results would be useful for defining protective limits of exposure. However, exposures to the major PFASs that are associated with this adverse effect are interrelated, and mutually adjusted BMD results would be desirable.

Methods: We carried out BMD calculations on prospective data from two prospective birth cohort studies from the Faroe Islands with a total of 1,146 children. Exposure data included serum concentrations of five major PFASs at birth and at age 5 years and, as outcome parameters, the serum concentrations of specific IgG antibodies against tetanus and diphtheria at ages 5 and 7. We calculated the BMDs and their lower confidence bounds (BMDLs) and included mutual adjustment for five major PFASs. BMD and BMDL were expressed in terms of the serum concentration of the PFASs.

Results: The BMDLs for the immunotoxicants were of similar magnitude before and after adjustment. As compared to linear dose-response models, the PFASs showed lower results for a piecewise linear model, which also provided a slightly better fit. Weaker associations with the antibody outcomes were observed after adjustments due to the correlation between the PFASs. However, while the adjustments resulted in elevated BMD results and p values, the BMDL values were not materially changed.

Conclusions: Adjustment for co-exposure to a related immunotoxicant increased both the BMD values and their standard errors, though affected the BMDL values only to a negligible extent. Thus, when correlated toxicants appear to affect the same outcome and none of them is known a priori to be solely responsible, all exposures may be considered responsible in BMD calculations. Our BMDL results, both before and after adjustment are generally below current exposure levels and therefore suggest that all five perfluorinated substances should attract regulatory attention, at least until additional evidence shows otherwise.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Bacterial / blood
  • Benchmarking*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Denmark
  • Diphtheria / immunology*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Fluorocarbons / blood*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Tetanus Toxoid / immunology*


  • Antibodies, Bacterial
  • Fluorocarbons
  • Tetanus Toxoid