A group of more than 30 academic and government scientists, as well as regulators from various regulatory agencies across the globe have jointly outlined a set of needs, goals, and actions to help assess and manage per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in the future. Professor Ian Cousins at the Department of Environmental Science and Analytical Chemistry (ACES) is a co-author of the article that is published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
“We have written many scientific articles stating that we lack key information on the huge number of PFASs in use, but we don’t know if our message is reaching the right people. A short statement, like the Zürich Statement, is expected to be a more effective way of communicating with international decision makers”, says Ian Cousins, Professor at the Department of Environmental Science and Analytical Chemistry (ACES), who is one of the scientists behind the initiative.
PFASs are a family of highly fluorinated chemicals produced since the late 1940s and used in a wide variety of both industrial and consumer applications such as food contact materials, cosmetics, firefighting foams, pesticides, impregnating sprays and many others.
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, still very little information exists regarding the current uses and potential hazards of many other PFASs. More than 3 000 PFASs are estimated to currently be or have been on the market, and many new compounds are likely being developed every year.
The statement is the outcome of an international workshop held in Zürich last November and the aim was to develop a strategic work plan between scientists and regulators to cooperatively work toward a more efficient and effective assessment and management of PFASs within the next 5-10 years.
The public’s awareness of the use of PFASs and issues related to their contamination of the environment has been growing over the past year following the discovery of drinking water contaminated with a PFAS for a large region of the state of North Carolina in the United States. The statement makes clear that it 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.
“PFASs will stay in the environment indefinitely once they are released. If we use them at all in society, it must be because they are essential”, says Ian Cousins. “In the Zürich Statement we highlight the need for defining essential and non-essential uses of PFASs. In my research group we currently have two projects that aim to determine if PFASs are essential in textiles. At least in some applications, for example rain jackets, there are less hazardous alternatives already available and PFASs are not essential. We hope that the Zürich Statement will lead to more international activities to define essential and non-essential uses of PFASs in a wider range of use categories.”
The article “Zürich Statement on Future Actions on Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances” is published in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
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).