Assessing Effectiveness of PFAS Exposure Control in Individuals from Exposed Communities and Occupationally Exposed Cohorts

National Health and Medical Research Council

In Australia, the Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) blood concentrations in the general population have been measured since the early 2000s, and during this time, a decline in PFAS blood concentration has been observed. However, PFAS contamination has affected communities and specific worker cohorts and resulted in elevated PFAS blood concentration. Community members from areas affected by environmental PFAS contamination, and firefighters affected by occupational PFAS exposure, have had their PFAS blood levels measured in the “2016-2021 PFAS Health Study”, or “2018-2019 (and 2014-2015) Airservices Exposure Study”.

This study aims to assess PFAS serum concentrations in individuals with high PFAS exposure to investigate the effectiveness of exposure control and identify factors governing successful exposure reduction. As part of this project, this study also aims to assess historical temporal PFAS serum concentration trends prior to 2000, in individuals representative of background PFAS exposure.

Firefighters, both current and former, who had previously participated in the PFAS health study or the Airservices exposure studies, were recruited for this study. Participants filled in a questionnaire and provided a blood sample in 2021/22 which was analysed for PFAS, as well as various health related biomarkers. Participants are currently being re-recruited to provide a second sample, two years after their previous samples were collected to be able to assess the temporal change in PFAS serum concentration.

To assess the PFAS blood concentration trends in individuals representative of background PFAS exposure in Australia prior to 2000, archived blood samples from the ‘Busselton Health Study data bank” were accessed and analysed for PFASs.


So far, approximately 300 community members and 500 firefighters have provided their first blood sample. In these participants, an overall decrease in PFAS blood concentration compared to the participants' initial sample from the PFAS health study/Airservices exposure study, has been observed. Further data analysis will be conducted once all participants have provided both of their blood samples.

Specific expected outcomes include:

  • Changes in the concentration (‘trend’) of PFAS in serum of individuals will be measured,
  • Factors associated with PFAS trends in exposed individuals will be identified,
  • A model for estimating PFAS exposure levels in individuals will be developed,
  • The relationship between changes in PFAS concentrations in serum and health biomarkers will be assessed.

Further information regarding the outcomes of the project can be seen on the Participants webpage.

From the “Busselton study data bank”, 17 individuals, with 3 blood samples collected in 1975, 1981, and 1995 have been identified and the blood samples have been analysed for PFAS. Several PFASs were detected in the blood as early as 1975, and the total PFAS serum concentration was observed to increase between 1975 and 1995.

Research Outputs

Nilsson, S., Bräunig, J., Carey, R.N., Hui, J., Smurthwaite, K., Toms, L.M., Kirk, M.D., Mueller, J.F. and Fritschi, L., 2023. Longitudinal measurements of per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in archived human serum samples between 1975 and 1995 in Australia. Journal of Hazardous Materials443, p.130307.

Research Impact

The research project has been presented to the PFAS Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, during an inquiry into the elimination and remediation of PFAS related impacts in and around defence bases.


Project members

Prof Jochen Mueller

Theme Leader, Emerging Environmental Health Risks

Prof Kelly Fielding

Theme Leader, Environmental Health Risk Communication

Dr Sandra Nilsson

Postdoctoral Research Fellow