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Environmental Risk Assessment of PFAS - SETAC



SETAC (Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry) organised an excellent meeting in August 2019 in Durham North Carolina USA. The meeting was designed to summarise the latest information on the effects and environmental fate of PFAS. The program and abstracts (platform and posters) can be found at https://pfas.setac.org/ . If you are a member of SETAC you can access some of the posters and presentations as well as summaries of the breakout sessions at the SETAC website (www.setac.org).

The first half of the meeting was platform sessions where a range of specific experts presented up to date summaries in 5 areas:

  • Environmental sources, chemistry, fate and transport
  • Exposure assessment
  • Ecological toxicity
  • Human health toxicity
  • Risk characterisation

The second half of the conference involved attendees splitting into breakout groups in each of these 5 areas for further discussion, so everyone had opportunity to ask questions and to comment.

There were a few obvious differences between the US and Australia in their experience of PFAS. The US is focused on the impact of PFAS on drinking water supplies as some of their most contaminated sites (manufacturing sites) have impacted on supplies in locations with there are few alternative drinking water sources. In Australia, most affected locations have had alternate sources for drinking water which have been brought online quickly. This means the risk from exposure via drinking water has been managed in most situations and risk assessments here have focused on whether there were residual risks from other exposure pathways, particularly uptake of PFAS into food.

There was much discussion about the toxicology of these chemicals as you might expect. One of the talks outlined how the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) put together their most recent guidance on PFOS and PFOA (published at end of 2018). The expert group working on the assessment for EFSA evaluated many animal studies and more than 200 studies of the effects of these chemicals on people (epidemiological). They decided that there were epidemiological studies that were robust enough to provide sufficient evidence of a range of effects and that these studies were suitable for setting a toxicity reference value. While the critical effect for PFOS used in the final guideline was the impact on serum cholesterol levels, the calculation of the guideline was undertaken for a range of effects including functional impacts on the immune system and birth weight. All effects gave similar values for the guideline, so the effect with the most robust data was used. That guideline value is lower than the Australian guideline.

It was a great conference! The next Focused Topic Meeting SETAC is organising covers non-target analysis for environmental risk assessment (https://nta.setac.org/scope-of-the-meeting/abstract-submission/). This focuses on maximising the use of all of the modern analytical tools to get a better picture of what is present in our environment.


August 2019 report by Therese Manning, EnRiskS

Didn't get to attend the event, but would love to review the presentations? Go to the ALGA online library*

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