Perfluorooctane sulfonate: A review of human exposure, biomonitoring and the environmental forensics utility of its chirality and isomer distribution

Ana Miralles-Marco*, Stuart Harrad

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Citations (Scopus)
347 Downloads (Pure)


Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) found extensive use for over 60. years up until its restriction in the early 2000s, culminating in its listing under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in 2009. Efforts to minimise human body burdens are hindered by uncertainty over their precise origins. While diet appears the principal source for the majority of western populations (with other pathways like dust ingestion, drinking water and inhalation also important contributors); the role played by exposure to PFOS-precursor compounds followed by in vivo metabolism to PFOS as the ultimate highly stable end-product is unclear. Such PFOS-precursor compounds include perfluorooctane sulfonamide derivates, e.g., perfluorooctane sulfonamides (FOSAs) and sulfonamidoethanols (FOSEs). Understanding the indirect contribution of such precursors to human body burdens of PFOS is important as a significant contribution from this pathway would render the margin of safety between the current exposure limits and estimates of external exposure to PFOS alone, narrower than hitherto appreciated. Estimates derived from mathematical modelling studies, put the contribution of so-called "precursor exposure" at between 10% and 40% of total PFOS body burdens. However, there are substantial uncertainties associated with such approaches. This paper reviews current understanding of human exposure to PFOS, with particular reference to recent research highlighting the potential of environmental forensics approaches based on the relative abundance and chiral signatures of branched chain PFOS isomers to provide definitive insights into the role played by "precursor exposure".

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)148-159
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironment International
Early online date27 Feb 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2015


  • Biomonitoring
  • Body burdens
  • Chirality
  • Human exposure
  • Isomer
  • Perfluoroalkyl substances
  • Perfluoroalkyl sulfonate
  • PFOS-precursors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science


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