Relative rates of cancers and deaths in Australian communities with PFAS environmental contamination associated with firefighting foams: A cohort study using linked data

H. D. Law, B. K. Armstrong, C. D'este, R. Hosking, K. S. Smurthwaite, S. Trevenar, R. M. Lucas, N. Lazarevic, M. D. Kirk, R. J. Korda

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Background: Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are environmental contaminants that are potentially harmful to health. We examined if rates of selected cancers and causes of deaths were elevated in three Australian communities with local environmental contamination caused by firefighting foams containing PFAS. The affected Australian communities were Katherine in Northern Territory, Oakey in Queensland and Williamtown in New South Wales. Methods: All residents identified in the Medicare Enrolment File (1983–2019)—a consumer directory for Australia's universal healthcare—who ever lived in an exposure area (Katherine, Oakey and Williamtown), and a sample of those who ever lived in selected comparison areas, were linked to the Australian Cancer Database (1982–2017) and National Death Index (1980–2019). We estimated standardised incidence ratios (SIRs) for 23 cancer outcomes, four causes of death and three control outcomes, adjusting for sex, age and calendar time of diagnosis. Findings: We observed higher rates of prostate cancer (SIR=1·76, 95 % confidence interval (CI) 1·36–2·24) in Katherine; laryngeal cancer (SIR=2·71, 95 % CI 1·30–4·98), kidney cancer (SIR=1·82, 95 % CI 1·04–2·96) and coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality (SIR=1·81, 95 % CI 1·46–2·33) in Oakey; and lung cancer (SIR=1·83, 95 % CI 1·39–2·38) and CHD mortality (SIR=1·22, 95 % CI 1·01–1·47) in Williamtown. We also saw elevated SIRs for control outcomes. SIRs for all other outcomes and overall cancer were similar across exposure and comparison areas. Interpretation: There was limited evidence to support an association between living in a PFAS exposure area and risks of cancers or cause-specific deaths.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102296
JournalCancer Epidemiology
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023

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