First-of-Its-Kind Study Examines PFAS Dietary Exposure from Vegetables in Adults and Children

A first-of-its-kind study by researchers at the Colorado School of Mines and engineering firm Geosyntec examines per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in groundwater used to grow crops.

Researchers gathered data on how much individual PFAS are taken into vegetable crops (lettuce) irrigated with contaminated groundwater to estimate the daily dietary exposure intake through vegetables for adults and children.

The study, published on November 17 in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, is original in that much of the attention over the years has been placed on identifying and cleaning up drinking water impacted by PFAS, while less attention has been given to assessing risks from consuming produce irrigated with PFAS-contaminated water, said Juliane Brown, an environmental engineering Ph.D. candidate at the Colorado School of Mines who led the research.

According to the study, researchers used real-world data from PFAS-contaminated groundwater to conduct a hazard analysis of a theoretical farm comparing different risk estimates based on state, federal, and international toxicity reference doses.

“This analysis showed estimated exposures to most PFASs exceeding available or derived human health toxicity reference values—indicating water-to-crop transfer is an important exposure pathway for agricultural communities with PFAS-impacted irrigation water,” the Colorado School of Mines reported in a news release detailing the study.

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NGWA has long been an industry leader in providing PFAS research, education, and resources to the public and scientific communities. In 2018, NGWA published Groundwater and PFAS: State of Knowledge and Practice, which was one of the first PFAS guidance documents to be released.

It can be found at NGWA.org/PFAS, which is a complete resource center about the groundwater contaminant featuring an FAQs document, a top-10 facts sheet, a homeowner checklist, and more.

NGWA published earlier this year, PFAS and Private Well Owners: What You Need to Know, a fact sheet written in an accessible and easy-to-understand way by members of NGWA’s PFAS Task Force. It focuses on everything private well owners should know about the impacts of PFAS on their wells and can be found on the NGWA website as well.

Also this summer, NGWA and eight other water associations commented on the EPA drinking water regulatory determination for PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid), as well as other PFAS, while also urging timely and comprehensive action.