Per and polyfluroalkyl substances in the environment and their impacts on human health

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are a major environmental concern globally due to their widespread usage and persistence. They found widespread applications in industry due to their unique chemistry of having both hydrophilic and hydrophobic (surfactant-like) properties. However, concerns about these chemicals have been growing due to their long-term persistence in the environment, potential for bioaccumulation and toxicity to human and ecological health. Consequently, two PFASs (PFOS, PFOA have already been listed on the Stockholm Convention for POPs, whereas the third compo (PFHxS) is about to be listed. This means the emerging economies will have to respond to this issue in near future.

In 2001, when it was realized that PFASs are bioaccumulative, contrary to previous assessment, the manufacturers such as 3M and DuPont voluntarily withdrew their manufacturing of PFOS. At that time China and India took up the production of these chemicals and hence the problem had virtually shifted to emerging economies. The true extent of PFAS problem has not been recognized in the emerging economies and this may be a “sleeper” issue.

Since 2000 a number of studies have been carried out in USA including USEPA’s exposure study (2013-15) involving > 36000 samples which showed that drinking water of 6 million people in USA exceeded the Lifetime Health Advisory value of 70 ng/L. Australia had to respond to widespread contamination of PFASs in surface and ground waters from Defence facilities (Airforce bases) and elevated levels of PFASs in blood of population living in the vicinity. Ecosystem health guidelines have also been developed in Australia.

Based on the above summary, emerging economies will need to address the PFAS issue in their country in the near future. Hence, this project will provide a critical synthesis as learnings from the work in the developed world that can serve as a guidance for emerging economies. IUPAC is best positioned to take up this role, due to its global skill base as well as outreach in emerging economies. The Chemistry and the Environment Division (Div VI) has a strong track record of working with such economies in the environment space.

The synthesis will cover three interdisciplinary areas:1. Review publications on current analytical techniques for environmental media (water and soils) and challenges associated with PFAS analyses (persistence in environment, matrix effects on detection and quantitation)2. Review publications on health effects of PFAS both fundamental toxicology as well as human health effects of PFAS exposure arising from environmental media, and3. A review of the current production of PFAS in emerging economies, current approved use of PFAS substance in developed economies, and banned (or proposed) uses of PFAS substances.

The project will produce a publication based on a critical evaluation of the current knowledge on PFAS substances related to three overarching areas, namely:1. analytical chemistry in environmental media,2. human health effects from environmental exposure, and3. PFAS management response by regulatory and policy agencies.

For more information and comments, contact Task Group Chair Bradley Miller <> |

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