PENSACOLA, Fla.–The Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) held a meeting in Durham, NC, from 12–15 August at which experts discussed and synthesized the latest science related to assessing risk to the environment and human health from environmental exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

PFAS are a large group of more than 4,700 long-chain chemical substances. Although the industrial use of some of these compounds has been halted, many are still in commerce and more are under development. Many of these compounds are persistent in the environment and have been identified and measured in air, soil and water in many locations throughout the globe. As a result, PFAS have also been measured in fish, produce and other agricultural products, and the occurrence of PFAS in water supplies has raised public concern about drinking water in some areas. All of these events have singled out PFAS as a class of contaminants of emerging concern. Regulatory authorities, industries and consumers are now all facing the challenge of understanding and managing these chemicals.

The complexity pertaining to PFAS is underscored by the repeated reflection that due to the sheer number of PFAS compounds and the dearth of toxicological data available for most of them, the scientific community needs to collaborate. Therefore, SETAC initiated a Focused Topic Meeting about “Understanding Environmental Risk from Exposure to Per- and Polyflouroalkyl Substances (PFAS),” which brought together more than 400 environmental professionals with a wide range of technical expertise from various fields and sectors to review new and emerging information on PFASs and to formulate a roadmap for a risk assessment approach for PFAS.

All experts agreed that since PFAS compounds are present in the environment as mixtures, determining a way to study them as a class, or a group of sub-classes is a top priority. The experts also stressed on the need for the research community to standardize analytical tools, reference materials, modeling techniques, exposure assessment and risk characterization methods. Data on the toxicity potential of these compounds is scarce, but the limited data available has shown that they could be associated with adverse effects on the environment and human health. Because of the large number of compounds and the need to get data on many of them in a timely fashion, the experts pointed to new toxicology methods to gather the necessary data with a focus on reduced animal testing.

Throughout the meeting, all researchers understood that there is a strong need for transparent and clear communication of risk from exposure to PFAS, not only amongst themselves, but in the public domain. The expert panels are planning to publish a series of papers to communicate the outcomes of the meeting in an upcoming issue of the peer reviewed SETAC journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

The Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) is an international, not-for-profit professional organization dedicated to the study, analysis and solution of environmental problems, the management and regulation of natural resources, research and development and environmental education. SETAC’s mission is to support the development of principles and practices for protection, enhancement and management of sustainable environmental quality and ecosystem integrity.

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Contact information: Greg Schiefer, SETAC North America Executive Director
850-469-1500 ext. 105 |