High Levels of PFAS Exposure from Forever Chemicals Cause Adverse Immune System Effects in Cape Fear Alligators

High Levels of PFAS Exposure from Forever Chemicals Cause Adverse Immune System Effects in Cape Fear Alligators

Alligators in the Cape Fear River were the subject of a recent study that found the animals had elevated blood serum levels of 14 different perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS), in addition to genetic and clinical indicators of immune system impacts.

The study expanded the body of research linking PFAS exposure to adverse effects on the immune system.

49 Gators, 23 Forever Chemicals PFAS

In 49 alligators that lived along the Cape Fear River between 2018 and 2019, the research team, led by Scott Belcher, an associate professor of biology at North Carolina State University, collected blood samples and assessed the health of the animals.

These findings were contrasted with the 26 Lake Waccamaw alligators from the nearby Lumber River watershed, which were the reference population.

Belcher said they examined 23 different PFASs and found distinct variations in the types and concentrations of PFASs detected in the two populations.

Comparatively, the Lake Waccamaw population had an average of five different PFAS, while the Cape Fear River samples had an average of ten different PFAS.

Furthermore, according to Belcher, alligators from the Cape Fear River Basin had higher blood concentrations of fluoroethers as Nafion byproduct 2, while these levels were much lower, or nearly undetectable, in alligators from Lake Waccamaw.

Their findings showed that overall PFAS concentrations decreased as the investigation progressed downriver from Wilmington toward Bald Head Island.

long lasting injuries

The team’s most peculiar discovery, however, was that several of the Cape Fear alligators had unhealed or infected lesions.

Belcher said alligators rarely get infected and injured, but they usually recover quickly.

Concerned about infected lesions that have not healed properly, the team decided to focus on the links between PFAS, or lifelong exposure to chemicals, and alterations in the alligators’ immune systems.

A qRT-PCR genetic analysis found that interferon-alpha (INF-α)-responsive genes were 400 times more abundant in alligators from the Cape Fear River than in alligators from Lake Waccamaw, which had much lower blood concentrations of PFAS.

Belcher explained that a secreted immune protein called INF-α plays a role in triggering an immune response.

The group examined a set of INF-α-sensitive genes that are normally associated with viral infections.

Also read: Study: ‘Forever Chemicals’ PFOS in Water Repellent Causes Liver Cancer

Long-term or chronic high expression of this group of genes in humans is a significant sign of autoimmune disorders, particularly lupus.

Additionally, some human exposures to PFAS have been associated with long-term autoimmune conditions, such as ulcerative colitis and thyroid disease.

He further explained that elevated expression of INF-α in these alligators therefore indicates a disruption in one or more aspects of their immune systems.

According to North Carolina State University NewsThe researchers are in a good position to continue to look at PFAS exposure and health differences in both individuals and larger alligator populations within both habitats because they have sample data from the last five years, much of which which are collected from the same alligators annually. .

human health as well

According to Belcher, alligators are sentinel species that signal health risks to humans.

These connections between PFAS exposure and impaired immune function in Cape Fear River alligators provided evidence that PFAS exposure has negative effects on human and animal health. physical organization informed.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the North Carolina Policy Collaborator, and the North Carolina Sea Grant provided funding for the research that was published in Frontiers in Toxicology.

The project, which was created in partnership with Cape Fear River Watch and the PFAS Test Network, has Belcher as its corresponding author.

Related article: Exposure to Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ Linked to Low Sperm Count

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