OBJECTIVE: Per- and polyfluoro-alkyl substances (PFAS) and lead (Pb) are ubiquitous environmental toxicants with apparent impact on cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. As one possible mechanism for this increased risk, we have previously demonstrated an association between Pb exposure and heightened cardiovascular reactivity to acute psychological stress, a CVD risk factor. The present study expands this approach and considers both PFAS and Pb exposures (and the possible interaction).
METHODS: We assessed 14 serum PFAS and whole blood Pb concentrations in a sample of 9-11 year-old children (N = 291; 43.2% White, 56.8% Black; 53.5% female). We measured cardiovascular functioning at rest and during psychological stress as well as multiple indicators of subclinical CVD including resting blood pressure (BP), carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity (cfPWV), carotid intima-media thickness (cIMT), and left ventricular mass (LVM). Data analysis included general linear modeling as well as a non-parametric approach to study metal mixtures, specifically Bayesian Kernel Machine Regression (BKMR).
RESULTS: Significant interactions between different PFAS and with Pb suggest the importance of considering toxicant mixtures when assessing potential disruption of the cardiovascular system. The pattern of findings suggests that greater "vascular reactivity" (elevated BP and vascular resistance during acute psychological stress) was associated with higher concentrations of perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS), and Pb, but only when perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) was concurrently elevated. With respect to subclinical outcomes, increasing perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA) was associated with greater cIMT (β = 0.21, p = 0.010).
CONCLUSION: To our knowledge this is the first study to consider how PFAS exposures might affect cardiovascular functioning and subclinical disease. Although a complex pattern of associations emerged, it does appear that PFAS and Pb can be classified as "cardiovascular disruptors" in children. Further research is needed to replicate these novel findings and determine whether these disruptions produce future cardiovascular disease.