University of Newcastle researchers are studying the potential effects of PFAS on male reproduction.
PFAS are a group of chemicals used in firefighting foams, known in the Hunter for leaching off the Williamtown RAAF base and contaminating property.
Professor Brett Nixon, Dr Geoffry De Iuliis and their research team are using male fertility to understand the biological effects of PFAS.
The study aims to pinpoint the "thresholds of exposure capable of triggering adverse health outcomes".
Dr De Iuliis said PFAS compounds were similar to molecules that "naturally make up parts of our cells".
"However PFAS substances are completely synthetic. This means that they can be mistaken in the body, and therefore interfere with the natural processes that govern good health," he said.
He said PFAS was an environmental pollutant that "may play some role in poor reproductive health".
PFAS molecules are "almost indestructible, making it very difficult for the body to eliminate".
Professor Nixon said some researchers had found that these compounds "can alter the hormonal control of the male reproductive system, leading to lower sperm production".
"But some of the strongest links in male health have been established between PFAS and the incidence of testicular cancer," he said.
"These findings resonate with the increasing rates of testicular cancer in recent decades to become the most common cancer in young men aged 20 to 40.
"There is a consensus that environmental, as opposed to genetic factors, are a major contributor to these tumours."
The research team will assess the effects of PFAS on sperm function. The team is looking to expand the number of male participants in the study. Three groups of men are being sought.
These groups are: men living in contaminated red zones near Department of Defence bases across Australia; men from communities close to the red zones; and male firefighters exposed to PFAS chemicals at work.
Professor Nixon said PFAS were used widely in "a variety of consumer products and industrial applications since the '60s".
"Given their widespread use and impressive chemical stability, PFAS are everywhere. Indeed, everyone will have a background level of PFAS in their body. Low levels of PFAS comes from "some food products, drinking water and house dust".
"Once absorbed into the body, PFAS bioaccumulate and may take years to be excreted. Our target however, is to assess the impacts of individuals with significantly elevated levels living and/or working in contaminated areas."
To be part of the study, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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