While alligators, as a top predator, don’t fear much in the wild, they should be concerned about the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances contaminating their environments. Their thick skin prevents harm from potential attackers, but their immune systems can be sabotaged by the widespread fluorinated organic chemicals polluting much of American waterways. Having recognized that alligators inhabiting the Cape Fear River Basin of North Carolina were not healing from wounds as easily as they normally do, researchers studied the levels of these environmental pollutants as well as immune system markers in these alligators as compared to nearby alligators without the chemical exposure.
Other research had linked various specific fluorinated chemicals with immune system dysfunction in animals and humans. DeWitt pointed this out with a paper in 2015. The United State national toxicology Program concluded that perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) are hazardous to human immunity. Other studies likened elevated levels of PFAS with increased rates of infections in children, lower production levels of antibodies in response to vaccines, and increase severity of COVID019 (Grandjean etal., 2020; Fenton et al., 2021). Others found evidence linking PFAS exposure with increases in autoimmunity, particularly thyroid and inflammatory bowel disease (Fenton et al., 2021).
These chemicals all share a basic structure of extensive fluorination across a backbone of carbon atoms. This fluorination permits them to remain inert to degradation and thus remain in the environment for long periods of time. They have been used in various products and industrial reactions for over 70 years, leading to their presence across land, water, and air (De Silva et al., 2021) With the widespread natura of these toxins, both individuals and communities should be concerned about heir potential adverse effects.
In the Cape Fear River Basin of North Carolina, upstream located fluorochemical production, wastewater treatment discharges and fire suppressants (using aqueous film forming foams (AFFF) lead to high levels downstream (McCord and Strynar, 2019). Both water and blood samples of residents of these areas have demonstrated high levels of various of these chemicals. Alligators serve as good sentinel animals in this basin, as they do not migrate from their habitats. The results could then be easily compared to nearby alligators who were not exposed to the same chemicals.
In comparing alligators taken from the Cape Fear basin to the nearby areas, higher levels of the chemicals were found. These alligators demonstrated higher levels of immune dysfunction and blood clotting impairments. This would match the abnormalities associated with autoimmune disease in humans by Shanmugam et al., 2017. In physical inspections of alligators, various suggested a weakened immunity allowing more infections and slowing healing. They also had higher levels of double stranded DNA auto-antibodies that are associated with lupus in humans.
This study only describes correlations without any focus on mechanisms of proof of causality. Given the similarity of these results and other studies in humans and animals, this heightens the concern for ongoing high levels of exposure for humans. Pursuing a healthier more abundant life requires awareness of these threats and intentional avoidance. Prevention is worth a pound of cure, but when prevention missed the boat, we work to help patients optimized their excretion and return to health.
- C. Guillette, Thomas W. Jackson, Matthew Guillette, James McCord, Scott M. Belcher. Blood concentrations of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are associated with autoimmune-like effects in American alligators from Wilmington, North Carolina. Frontiers in Toxicology, 2022; 4 DOI: 10.3389/ftox.2022.1010185
Thanks to Science Daily:
North Carolina State University. “Alligators exposed to PFAS show autoimmune effects.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 October 2022. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/10/221020083421.htm>.
De Silva, A. O., Armitage, J. M., Bruton, T. A., Dassuncao, C., Heiger-Bernays, W., Hu, X. C., et al. (2021). PFAS exposure pathways for humans and wildlife: A synthesis of current knowledge and key gaps in understanding. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 40, 631–657. doi:10.1002/etc.4935
Fenton, S. E., Ducatman, A., Boobis, A., DeWitt, J. C., Lau, C., Ng, C., et al. (2021). Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance toxicity and human health review: Current state of knowledge and strategies for informing future research. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 40, 606–630. doi:10.1002/etc.4890
Grandjean, P., Timmermann, C. A. G., Kruse, M., Nielsen, F., Vinholt, P. J., Boding, L., et al. (2020). Severity of COVID-19 at elevated exposure to perfluorinated alkylates. PLoS One 15, e0244815. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0244815
McCord, J., and Strynar, M. (2019). Identification of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in the Cape Fear River by high resolution mass spectrometry and nontargeted screening. Environ. Sci. Technol. 53, 4717–4727. doi:10.1021/acs.est.8b06017
Shanmugam, V. K., Angra, D., Rahimi, H., and McNish, S. (2017). Vasculitic and autoimmune wounds. J. Vasc. Surg. Venous Lymphat. Disord. 5, 280–292. doi:10.1016/j.jvsv.2016.09.006
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