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Variability and epistemic uncertainty in water ingestion rates and pharmacokinetic parameters, and impact on the association between perfluorooctanoate and preeclampsia in the C8 Health Project population

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We recently utilized a suite of environmental fate and transport models and an integrated exposure and pharmacokinetic model to estimate individual perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) serum concentrations, and also assessed the association of those concentrations with preeclampsia for participants in the C8 Health Project (a cross-sectional study of over 69,000 people who were environmentally exposed to PFOA near a major U.S. fluoropolymer production facility located in West Virginia). However, the exposure estimates from this integrated model relied on default values for key independent exposure parameters including water ingestion rates, the serum PFOA half-life, and the volume of distribution for PFOA. The aim of the present study is to assess the impact of inter-individual variability and epistemic uncertainty in these parameters on the exposure estimates and subsequently, the epidemiological association between PFOA exposure and preeclampsia. We used Monte Carlo simulation to propagate inter-individual variability/epistemic uncertainty in the exposure assessment and reanalyzed the epidemiological association. Inter-individual variability in these parameters mildly impacted the serum PFOA concentration predictions (the lowest mean rank correlation between the estimated serum concentrations in our study and the original predicted serum concentrations was 0.95) and there was a negligible impact on the epidemiological association with preeclampsia (no change in the mean adjusted odds ratio (AOR) and the contribution of exposure uncertainty to the total uncertainty including sampling variability was 7%). However, when epistemic uncertainty was added along with the inter-individual variability, serum PFOA concentration predictions and their association with preeclampsia were moderately impacted (the mean AOR of preeclampsia occurrence was reduced from 1.12 to 1.09, and the contribution of exposure uncertainty to the total uncertainty was increased up to 33%). In conclusion, our study shows that the change of the rank exposure among the study participants due to variability and epistemic uncertainty in the independent exposure parameters was large enough to cause a 25% bias towards the null. This suggests that the true AOR of the association between PFOA and preeclampsia in this population might be higher than the originally reported AOR and has more uncertainty than indicated by the originally reported confidence interval.

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