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PFAS linked to high blood pressure in women

Drinking water. Food. Sky. Fish. It seems that there isn’t a part of the world that isn’t touched by per- and polyfluoroalkyls (PFAS), man-made “forever chemicals” that are slowly breaking down and whose dangers to humans and animals are being studied.

Now researchers have linked PFAS to high blood pressure in middle-aged women, adding to the long list of health risks associated with the pollutants.

A study published in the journal Hypertension looked at the health of 1,058 women between the ages of 45 and 56, analyzing data from annual checkups between 1999 and 2017. They all had normal blood pressures when the study began, but over time, 470 patients developed hypertension.

EPA warns toxic ‘forever chemicals’ more dangerous than once thought

At the start of the study period, researchers measured PFAS in the women’s blood. Women with higher blood concentrations of the chemicals were more likely to develop hypertension than their counterparts.

The risk varied depending on the concentration of different chemicals in the blood. Women with detectable perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), a contaminant once found in products like Scotchgard and still present in some semiconductors, paints and industrial products, were 42 percent more likely to have high blood pressure than women with no exposure. Perfluorooctanoate, also known as C8, was associated with a 47 percent higher risk. It is found in everything from upholstery to clothing and food packaging.

Exposure to multiple PFAS chemicals had a stronger effect on blood pressure, and the higher the concentration, the greater the risk. Women in the highest third of PFAS blood concentrations were 71 percent more likely to develop hypertension than women in the lowest third.

The dangers of PFAS, often referred to as ‘forever chemicals’

The study coincides with heightened warnings about the danger of PFAS. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency recommended aggressive action to fight the compounds associated with everything from cancer to infertility.

“Women seem especially vulnerable when exposed to these chemicals,” Ning Ding, a postdoctoral researcher in epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and lead author of the study, said in a statement. She said exposure could be an “understated risk factor” for hypertension.

While more work is needed to investigate links between the chemicals and high blood pressure, the researchers write that PFAS is a “possibly modifiable” risk factor. But since they are both ubiquitous and long-lasting, modifying risks can be a huge challenge.