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Scientists call for stronger management of PFASs

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August 31st, 2018: More than thirty scientists from all over the world, in conjunction with regulators from agencies across the globe, have jointly outlined a set of needs, goals, and actions to help assess and manage the diverse and widely used group of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in the future.

The “Zürich Statement on Future Actions on Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs)” has been published in the open access journal Environmental Health Perspectives. A pre-print version has been publicly released and is available for download. The final version will be published later today on the journal’s website.

The Statement stresses that, while well-known legacy PFASs such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) have been investigated extensively and regulated over the past two decades in response to their identified hazardous properties, very little information exists regarding the current uses and potential hazards of many other PFASs.

What are PFASs?

PFASs are a family of highly fluorinated chemicals used globally in both industrial and consumer applications such as: food contact materials; cosmetics and personal care products; leather, textiles, carpets and upholstery; firefighting foams; household and professional cleaning agents; pesticides; mining and oil welling; automotive; impregnating sprays; and many others.

More than 3000 PFASs are estimated to currently be or have been on the market, and many new compounds are likely being developed every year. These highly persistent, man-made chemicals have been found to exist at measurable concentrations in the blood of most people in industrialized countries, including in the United States and European Union. Adverse health effects linked to exposure to certain PFASs such as PFOA and PFOS include changes in liver function, skewed hormone levels, reduced birth weight, and increased pregnancy loss, among others (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 2018).

Increased collaboration needed

The Statement aims to concretely contribute to the ongoing global efforts regarding PFASs by providing a way forward for better collaboration between the scientists studying the compounds and the regulators tasked with assessing them to protect public health and the environment. Specifically, it calls for increased collaboration in efforts such as gathering information to fill critical data gaps, developing novel schemes to focus on highly (or very highly) persistent chemicals, and conducting joint assessments for groups of PFASs.

“Researchers and regulators from many countries have been working on this Statement” says Dorte Herzke, a co-author of the Statement and senior researcher at NILU, Institute for Air Research in Tromsø, Norway. “Many thousand different PFAS compounds are produced worldwide, with many more to come in the future, challenging todays mechanisms for good regulation. We wanted to address the need of a strategic workplan between scientists and regulators to cooperatively work toward a more efficient and effective assessment and management of PFASs within the next 5-10 years, and we are glad that this workplan is available now.”

The Statement builds upon earlier calls made by scientists regarding PFASs in the Madrid Statement in 2015 and in the Helsingør Statement in 2014. In these statements, a precautionary approach is promoted for the use of PFASs as well as a transition towards the development and use of less persistent or non-chemical alternatives.

The Zürich Statement is currently open for signatories. More information on how to do this is provided on the website of the International Panel on Chemical Pollution (IPCP).


Professor Martin Scheringer, RECETOX, Masaryk University and ETH Zürich, scheringer@chem.ethz.ch

Senior scientist Dorte Herzke, NILU – Norwegian Institute for Air Research, dhe@nilu.no