Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Canadians
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Organization: Health Canada
Date published: 2021-12-14
Information on human biomonitoring of PFAS in Canada with results from the Canadian Health Measures Survey.
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What are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)?
PFAS are structurally related organic compounds that have a fluorinated carbon chain structure. They are synthetic chemicals with high chemical and thermal stability that can repel water and oils. PFAS persist in the environment and can accumulate over time. Below is a list of PFAS that are detected in the Canadian population.
Where are PFAS found?
PFAS are used in a wide range of products and industrial processes, such as surfactants, lubricants and repellents (for dirt, water and grease). They can also be found in products as diverse as firefighting foams, cosmetics, food packaging and textiles (such as carpets, furniture and clothing).
How are people exposed to PFAS?
People are exposed to PFAS mainly through food, drinking water and house dust. For infants, toddlers and children, hand-to-mouth contact with consumer textile products may be a significant source of exposure.
How are PFAS measured in people?
Some PFAS are well absorbed in the body and not extensively metabolized. PFAS are commonly measured in blood, including whole blood, blood serum and blood plasma. Serum levels of PFAS, especially PFOA and PFOS, can reflect cumulative exposure over several years. The presence of these substances in serum may also result from exposure to other PFAS that can be metabolized to PFOS and PFOA.
What are the potential health impacts of PFAS?
Studies in laboratory animals show that exposure to certain PFAS is associated with reproductive, developmental, endocrine, liver, kidney and immunological effects. Studies in people have found that exposure to PFOA and PFOS can affect the liver, birth weight, metabolism and immune system. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified PFOA as possibly carcinogenic to humans.
What is the Government of Canada doing to lower human exposures to PFAS?
PFOA, PFOS, long-chain perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids (such as PFNA and PFDA) and their salts and precursors are identified as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. Health Canada, in collaboration with the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Committee on Drinking Water, has developed guidelines for PFOA and PFOS. It has also developed screening values for 9 other PFAS (including PFNA and PFHxS) in drinking water. The Prohibition of Certain Toxic Substances Regulations, 2012 prohibits PFOA, PFOS, long-chain perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids, and their salts and precursors in Canada. The Government of Canada continues to monitor and assess a subset of PFAS.
|Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS)||General Canadian population living in the 10 provinces|
|First Nations Biomonitoring Initiative (FNBI)||First Nations people living on-reserve south of the 60° parallel|
|Maternal-Infant Research on Environmental Chemicals (MIREC) study||Pregnant women and their infants recruited from obstetric and prenatal clinics in 10 cities across Canada|
|Nutaratsaliit qanuingisiarningit niqituinnanut (NQN) Pregnancy Wellness with Country Foods project||Pregnant Inuit women in 14 communities of Nunavik|
|U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)||General U.S. population|
This fact sheet presents nationally representative data from the CHMS. These data are compared with data from the FNBI, the MIREC study, the NQN project and the U.S. NHANES.
|Collection period||Age range (years)||Matrix||Biomarkers|
|2007–2009||20 to 79||Plasma||PFOA, PFHxS, PFOS|
|2009–2011||12 to 79||Plasma||PFOA, PFNA, PFDA, PFHxS, PFOS|
|2016–2017||3 to 79||Plasma||PFOA, PFNA, PFDA, PFHxS, PFOS|
|2018–2019||3 to 79||Plasma||PFOA, PFNA, PFDA, PFHxS, PFOS|
|2011||20+||Plasma||PFOA, PFNA, PFDA, PFHxS, PFOS|
|2008–2011||18+||Plasma||PFOA, PFHxS, PFOS|
|2016–2017||16 to 40||Serum||PFOA, PFNA, PFDA, PFHxS, PFOS|
|2007–2008||12+||Serum||PFOA, PFNA, PFDA, PFHxS, PFOS|
|2009–2010||12+||Serum||PFOA, PFNA, PFDA, PFHxS, PFOS|
|2011–2012||12+||Serum||PFOA, PFNA, PFDA, PFHxS, PFOS|
|2013–2014||12+||Serum||PFOA, PFNA, PFDA, PFHxS, PFOS|
|2015–2016||12+||Serum||PFOA, PFNA, PFDA, PFHxS, PFOS|
Figure 1: Text description
|PFAS||Collection period||Geometric mean|
There was a statistically significant decreasing trend (P < 0.001) in PFOA, PFNA, PFDA, PFHxS and PFOS concentrations in the Canadian population aged 12 or 20 to 79. Between 2007–2009 and 2018–2019, PFOA concentrations declined by 52%, PFHxS concentrations declined by 64% and PFOS concentrations declined by 67%. Between 2009–2011 and 2018–2019, PFNA concentrations declined by 47% and PFDA concentrations declined by 36%.
Canadian population, by age group
Figure 2: Text description
|PFAS||Collection period||Age group (years)||Geometric mean|
|PFOA||2007–2009||3 to 5||NA|
|PFOA||2007–2009||6 to 11||NA|
|PFOA||2007–2009||12 to 19||NA|
|PFOA||2007–2009||20 to 39||2.4|
|PFOA||2007–2009||40 to 59||2.5|
|PFOA||2007–2009||60 to 79||2.7|
|PFOA||2009–2011||3 to 5||NA|
|PFOA||2009–2011||6 to 11||NA|
|PFOA||2009–2011||12 to 19||2.1|
|PFOA||2009–2011||20 to 39||2.2|
|PFOA||2009–2011||40 to 59||2.2|
|PFOA||2009–2011||60 to 79||2.8|
|PFOA||2016–2017||3 to 5||1.5|
|PFOA||2016–2017||6 to 11||1.3|
|PFOA||2016–2017||12 to 19||1.1|
|PFOA||2016–2017||20 to 39||1.1|
|PFOA||2016–2017||40 to 59||1.4|
|PFOA||2016–2017||60 to 79||1.6|
|PFOA||2018–2019||3 to 5||1.3|
|PFOA||2018–2019||6 to 11||1.2|
|PFOA||2018–2019||12 to 19||0.96|
|PFOA||2018–2019||20 to 39||1.0|
|PFOA||2018–2019||40 to 59||1.2|
|PFOA||2018–2019||60 to 79||1.5|
|PFNA||2009–2011||3 to 5||NA|
|PFNA||2009–2011||6 to 11||NA|
|PFNA||2009–2011||12 to 19||0.71|
|PFNA||2009–2011||20 to 39||0.79|
|PFNA||2009–2011||40 to 59||0.79|
|PFNA||2009–2011||60 to 79||1.1|
|PFNA||2016–2017||3 to 5||0.44|
|PFNA||2016–2017||6 to 11||0.44|
|PFNA||2016–2017||12 to 19||0.40|
|PFNA||2016–2017||20 to 39||0.41|
|PFNA||2016–2017||40 to 59||0.59|
|PFNA||2016–2017||60 to 79||0.61|
|PFNA||2018–2019||3 to 5||0.36|
|PFNA||2018–2019||6 to 11||0.38|
|PFNA||2018–2019||12 to 19||0.33|
|PFNA||2018–2019||20 to 39||0.36|
|PFNA||2018–2019||40 to 59||0.44|
|PFNA||2018–2019||60 to 79||0.61|
|PFDA||2009–2011||3 to 5||NA|
|PFDA||2009–2011||6 to 11||NA|
|PFDA||2009–2011||12 to 19||0.15|
|PFDA||2009–2011||20 to 39||0.22|
|PFDA||2009–2011||40 to 59||0.17|
|PFDA||2009–2011||60 to 79||0.25|
|PFDA||2016–2017||3 to 5||0.14|
|PFDA||2016–2017||6 to 11||0.14|
|PFDA||2016–2017||12 to 19||0.12|
|PFDA||2016–2017||20 to 39||0.16|
|PFDA||2016–2017||40 to 59||0.21|
|PFDA||2016–2017||60 to 79||0.21|
|PFDA||2018–2019||3 to 5||NC|
|PFDA||2018–2019||6 to 11||NC|
|PFDA||2018–2019||12 to 19||NC|
|PFDA||2018–2019||20 to 39||0.11|
|PFDA||2018–2019||40 to 59||0.13|
|PFDA||2018–2019||60 to 79||0.17|
|PFHxS||2007–2009||3 to 5||NA|
|PFHxS||2007–2009||6 to 11||NA|
|PFHxS||2007–2009||12 to 19||NA|
|PFHxS||2007–2009||20 to 39||2.1|
|PFHxS||2007–2009||40 to 59||2.2|
|PFHxS||2007–2009||60 to 79||2.8|
|PFHxS||2009–2011||3 to 5||NA|
|PFHxS||2009–2011||6 to 11||NA|
|PFHxS||2009–2011||12 to 19||1.9|
|PFHxS||2009–2011||20 to 39||1.5|
|PFHxS||2009–2011||40 to 59||1.8|
|PFHxS||2009–2011||60 to 79||2.2|
|PFHxS||2016–2017||3 to 5||0.56|
|PFHxS||2016–2017||6 to 11||0.55|
|PFHxS||2016–2017||12 to 19||0.65|
|PFHxS||2016–2017||20 to 39||0.82|
|PFHxS||2016–2017||40 to 59||0.89|
|PFHxS||2016–2017||60 to 79||1.3|
|PFHxS||2018–2019||3 to 5||0.48|
|PFHxS||2018–2019||6 to 11||0.50|
|PFHxS||2018–2019||12 to 19||0.50|
|PFHxS||2018–2019||20 to 39||0.67|
|PFHxS||2018–2019||40 to 59||0.78|
|PFHxS||2018–2019||60 to 79||1.1|
|PFOS||2007–2009||3 to 5||NA|
|PFOS||2007–2009||6 to 11||NA|
|PFOS||2007–2009||12 to 19||NA|
|PFOS||2007–2009||20 to 39||8.2|
|PFOS||2007–2009||40 to 59||8.6|
|PFOS||2007–2009||60 to 79||11|
|PFOS||2009–2011||3 to 5||NA|
|PFOS||2009–2011||6 to 11||NA|
|PFOS||2009–2011||12 to 19||4.6|
|PFOS||2009–2011||20 to 39||6.2|
|PFOS||2009–2011||40 to 59||6.4|
|PFOS||2009–2011||60 to 79||9.4|
|PFOS||2016–2017||3 to 5||1.7|
|PFOS||2016–2017||6 to 11||1.7|
|PFOS||2016–2017||12 to 19||1.9|
|PFOS||2016–2017||20 to 39||2.5|
|PFOS||2016–2017||40 to 59||3.8|
|PFOS||2016–2017||60 to 79||4.5|
|PFOS||2018–2019||3 to 5||1.4|
|PFOS||2018–2019||6 to 11||1.5|
|PFOS||2018–2019||12 to 19||1.6|
|PFOS||2018–2019||20 to 39||2.3|
|PFOS||2018–2019||40 to 59||2.9|
|PFOS||2018–2019||60 to 79||3.9|
Concentrations of PFAS were generally higher in adults than in children in the Canadian population.
Canadian population, by sex
Figure 3: Text description
|PFAS||Collection period||Sex||Geometric mean|
Concentrations of PFOA, PFHxS and PFOS were higher in males than in females in the Canadian population. Concentrations of PFNA and PFDA were similar between sexes.
Comparison of the general population and First Nations on-reserve population in Canada
Figure 4: Text description
|PFAS||Biomonitoring initiative||Geometric mean|
Concentrations of PFOA, PFHxS and PFOS were higher in the general population than in the First Nations on-reserve population in Canada. Concentrations of PFNA and PFDA were similar between the two populations.
Comparison of women of child-bearing age and pregnant women in Canada
Figure 5: Text description
|PFAS||Biomonitoring initiative||Geometric mean|
Concentrations of PFOA, PFHxS and PFOS were similar between women of child-bearing age and women in the first trimester of pregnancy in cities across Canada.
Comparison of women of child-bearing age and pregnant women from Nunavik Inuit communities in Canada
Figure 6: Text description
|PFAS||Biomonitoring initiative||Geometric mean|
Concentrations of PFOA and PFHxS were higher in women of child-bearing age in the general Canadian population. Concentrations of PFNA, PFDA and PFOS were higher in pregnant women from Inuit communities in Nunavik.
Comparison of the Canadian and U.S. populations
Figure 7: Text description
|PFAS||Biomonitoring initiative||Collection period||Geometric mean|
Concentrations of PFAS were similar between the Canadian and U.S. populations.
Health Canada. 2021. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Canadians. Ottawa, ON. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/environmental-workplace-health/reports-publications/environmental-contaminants/human-biomonitoring-resources/per-polyfluoroalkyl-substances-canadians.html
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