More than 250 participants from all over the world tuned in on September 17th to watch the first webinar in the new Seminar Series at the Department of Environmental Science. Co-organized together with the European Environmental Bureau and the PERFORCE3 European Training Network, the kick-off webinar on “PFAS and the Essential Use Concept” brought together experts from academia, industry, an NGO, and government, for a constructive discussion on the challenges and opportunities associated with managing PFAS using the Essential Use Concept. Besides attracting an impressively large audience, the online eventwas integrated into several courses from both within and outside of the Department. The panellists received over 50 questions from the audience, which are currently being addressed and the answers will soon be posted to the seminar webpage.
“A comprehensive restriction on the use of PFAS in society is being proposed which will prioritize non-essential uses of PFAS. The topic of PFAS and essentiality therefore appeared to be the ideal discussion topic to kick-off the new seminar series,” says Ian Cousins, Professor at the Department of Environmental Science and moderator of the panel discussion during the webinar.
The concept of essential use or essentiality was first proposed as part of the Montreal Protocol for phasing out ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons for all but certain essential uses. In a study published in 2019 in Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts, a peer-reviewed journal published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, researchers including Professor Cousins, proposed a framework based on the concept of “essential use” to determine whether a chemical is really needed for a particular application. They demonstrated the concept on PFAS, a class of synthetic fluorinated chemicals.
“Since the paper was published it has received a large amount of interest, especially from chemical regulators”, says Cousins. “PFAS are a class of substances of global concern and regulators are interested in ways to manage their uses in society. For example, the national authorities of Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark have agreed to prepare a joint restriction proposal to limit the risks to the environment and human health from the manufacture and use of a wide range of PFAS,“ he continues.
The webinar opened with an introductory keynote by Professor Martin Scheringer (ETH Zurich) followed by a panel discussion, an exciting new format adopted for the seminar series,moderated by Professor Cousins. The multi-stakeholder panel consistedof: Stephen Korzeniowski,an industry scientist from the Performance Fluoropolymer Partnership and the Alliance for Telomer Chemistry Stewardship, Anna Lennquist from ChemSec, an independent non-profit organisation, Jenny Ivarsson, a regulatorfrom the Swedish Chemicals Agency (KEMI), and Joel Tickner an academic from the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts Lowell.
“The panel was compiled to provide a diversity of opinions on this topic and it certainly managed to do just that. There were diverse and strong views expressed from the panellists from the different stakeholder organizations, but the tone was always highly respectful. They certainly didn’t run out of things to discuss and the time seemed to disappear very quickly,” says Cousins. “But that tends to happen when you’re enjoying yourself,” he adds.
The concept of essential use, while welcomed by all panellists regardless of their affiliation, was considered in need of further development before it can be applied within the chemical substitution process. There was concern, for example, that without clearer criteria on how to apply the concept of essentiality, it could be misused both by industry and by regulators.
“Panel discussions with multi-stakeholder groups will become a regular feature of the new seminar series, which also contributes to the Department’s strategy regarding external relations,” says Jon Benskin, Associate Professor at the Department of Environmental Science and chair of the Seminar Series Organizing Committee.
PFAS are a large and structural diverse family of many thousands of substances used in numerous consumer products and industrial applications because of the unique properties, such as their chemical and thermal stability as well as ability to repel both oil and water). They have been used as powerful surfactants in, for example, fire-fighting foams and as surface protectors in non-stick cookware and in water repellent outdoor equipment. However, a growing number of scientists and health professionals have expressed concern about these chemicals since they persist in the environment for a very long time, contaminatedrinking water sources, food and wildlife, and thus may adversely impact human and ecological health. Health concerns in humans linked to PFAS exposure include kidney- and testicular cancer, liver malfunction, hypothyroidism, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, lower birth weight and size, obesity, and decreased immune response to vaccines.
About the Seminar Series
The seminars will normally be held once per month (online and later on as a hybrid mode). Information on the Series, including past and upcoming events, will be made available on the website soon.
If there are topics that you would like discussed in the future in this type of format, or in other formats, then please contact Ian Cousins and Jonathan Benskin and they will endeavour to make it happen.