DURHAM, N.C.— Researchers at Duke University have received a $248,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to study PFAS exposure risks in the home environment.

Kate Hoffman, assistant research professor at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, will lead the three-year study, which will focus on risks posed by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in indoor air and dust.

Exposure to some PFAS has been associated with impaired immune function, cancer, thyroid disease, and other health disorders. Mothers and young children may be especially vulnerable to the chemicals, which can affect reproductive and developmental health.

“Many studies have identified drinking water as a significant source of PFAS exposure. However, PFAS are also commonly found in indoor air and dust, and research into these pathways of exposure has been limited,” Hoffman said. “We aim to fill that gap by evaluating PFAS in the home environment and estimating its contribution to total PFAS exposure in the general population.”

PFAS are often called “forever chemicals” because of how long they remain in the environment and human body. They are used to manufacture many consumer products, from stain-resistant coatings for carpets, upholstery, and other fabrics, to water-resistant clothing and some personal care products and cosmetics. Over time, the chemicals can rub off or be released from these products and mix into a home’s air and dust, where they can be inhaled or ingested.

To conduct the new study, Hoffman and her team, which includes scientists at Duke, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of California-Irvine, will analyze air and dust samples from the homes of 50 volunteer participants. Each participant will be asked to wear a silicone wristband for 7 days while at home. The wristbands, which absorb the PFAS and other semi-volatile organic chemicals the wearer has been exposed to, will then also be analyzed.

“Ultimately, we hope to be able to be able to say how much of each participant’s total PFAS exposure came from indoor air and dust versus through diet, drinking water or other sources,” Hoffman said. “Knowing this will help us identify the most significant pathways of exposure and assess the risks they may pose to the general population.”

Heather Stapleton of Duke, Graham Peaslee of Notre Dame, and Veronica Vieira and Scott Bartell of UC-Irvine are conducting the study with Hoffman.