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Environ Int. 2012 Nov 15;49:92-9. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2012.08.004. Epub 2012 Sep 23.

Perfluoroalkyl substances in polar bear mother-cub pairs: a comparative study based on plasma levels from 1998 and 2008.

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Department of Biology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology-NTNU, Høgskoleringen 5, NO-7491 Trondheim, Norway.


Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are protein-binding blood-accumulating contaminants that may have detrimental toxicological effects on the early phases of mammalian development. To enable an evaluation of the potential health risks of PFAS exposure for polar bears (Ursus maritimus), an exposure assessment was made by examining plasma levels of PFASs in polar bear mothers in relation to their suckling cubs-of-the-year (~4 months old). Samples were collected at Svalbard in 1998 and 2008, and we investigated the between-year differences in levels of PFASs. Seven perfluorinated carboxylic acids (∑₇PFCAs: PFHpA, PFOA, PFNA, PFDA, PFUnDA, PFDoDA, and PFTrDA) and two perfluorinated sulfonic acids (∑₂PFSAs: PFHxS and PFOS) were detected in the majority of the mothers and cubs from both years. In mothers and cubs, most PFCAs were detected in higher concentrations in 2008 than in 1998. On the contrary, levels of PFOS were lower in 2008 than in 1998, while levels of PFHxS did not differ between the two sampling years. PFOS was the dominating compound in mothers and cubs both in 1998 and in 2008. Concentration of PFHpA did not differ between mothers and cubs, while concentrations of PFOA, PFNA, PFDA, PFUnDA, PFDoDA, PFTrDA, PFHxS, and PFOS were higher in mothers than in their cubs. Except from PFHpA, all compounds correlated significantly between mothers and their cubs. The mean cub to mother ratios ranged from 0.15 for PFNA to 1.69 for PFHpA. On average (mean±standard error of mean), the levels of ∑₇PFCAs and ∑₂PFSAs in cubs were 0.24±0.01 and 0.22±0.01 times the levels in their mothers, respectively. Although maternal transfer appears to be a substantial source of exposure for the cubs, the low cub to mother ratios indicate that maternal transfer of PFASs in polar bears is relatively low in comparison with hydrophobic contaminants (e.g. PCBs). Because the level of several PFASs in mothers and cubs from both sampling years exceeded the levels associated with health effects in humans, our findings raise concern on the potential health effects of PFASs in polar bears from Svalbard. Effort should be made to examine the potential health effects of PFASs in polar bears.

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