Reducing exposure to high levels of perfluorinated compounds in drinking water improves reproductive outcomes: evidence from an intervention in Minnesota

Waterfield, G., Rogers, M., Grandjean, P. et al. (2020). “Reducing exposure to high levels of perfluorinated compounds in drinking water improves reproductive outcomes: evidence from an intervention in Minnesota.” Environmental Health 19, 42. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-020-00591-0 [open access]

Background

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) have been detected in drinking water supplies around the world and are the subject of intense regulatory debate. While they have been associated with several illnesses, their effects on reproductive outcomes remains uncertain.

Methods

We analyzed birth outcomes in the east Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area from 2002 to 2011, where a portion of the population faced elevated exposure to PFASs due to long-term contamination of drinking water supplies from industrial waste disposal. Installation of a water filtration facility in the highly contaminated city of Oakdale, MN at the end of 2006 resulted in a sharp decrease in exposure to PFASs, creating a “natural experiment”. Using a difference-in-differences approach, we compare the changes in birth outcomes before and after water filtration in Oakdale to the changes over the same period in neighboring communities where the treatment of municipal water remained constant.

Results

Average birth weight and average gestational age were statistically significantly lower in the highly exposed population than in the control area prior to filtration of municipal water supply. The highly exposed population faced increased odds of low birth weight (adjusted odds ratio 1.36, 95% CI 1.25–1.48) and pre-term birth (adjusted odds ratio 1.14, 95% CI 1.09–1.19) relative to the control before filtration, and these differences moderated after filtration. The general fertility rate was also significantly lower in the exposed population (incidence rate ratio 0.73, 95% CI 0.69–0.77) prior to filtration and appeared to be rebounding post-2006.

Conclusions

Our findings provide evidence of a causal relationship between filtration of drinking water containing high levels of exposure to PFASs and improved reproductive outcomes.

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