750 experts discuss new research and strategies on PFAS

Junge Pflanze, deren Wurzeln in den Boden ragen
Note: This text is from the archive.
Published on:
Sequence number: No. 217/20
Topic: Soil Conservation
Publisher: Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety
Minister: Svenja Schulze
Term of office: 14.03.2018 - 08.12.2021
19th Leg. period: 14.03.2018 - 08.12.2021
During the virtual two-day conference, European experts will exchange views on how PFAS deals with environmental pollution.

International specialist conference on per- and polyflourinated substances

Today the two-day conference "PFAS – Dealing with contaminants of emerging concern" begins. European and international experts will come together online to discuss how to handle environmental burdens caused by per- and polyflourinated substances (PFAS). Due to their unique properties, these more than 5,000 substances are used in a broad range of products such as outdoor clothing, cooking utensils, stain-resistant rugs and fire-fighting foams. The downside of the widespread use of PFAS is their stability, which means that they can accumulate in the environment and enter the food chain. PFAS have been found in the water, air and soil around the world. They can also be found in human blood serum and impact on health, particularly affecting the immune system. For this reason, the EU and Germany are researching PFAS and developing policy strategies, legal requirements and remediation techniques. The event is being held as part of the German Council Presidency.

German Environment Minister Schulze commented: "Per- and polyflourinated substances are a global and European problem. The European Commission set out a ban on PFAS as an important target in its chemicals strategy. The aim is to prevent any further PFAS entering the environment in the EU in future. Currently, the German chemicals authorities are working with their European partners to prepare a ban on all PFAS that are not of indispensable use to society. Germany is leading the way with Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. In order to close knowledge gaps on PFAS, we need more research and better coordination of Europe-wide research activities."

President of the German Environment Agency (UBA) Dr Dirk Messner remarked: "Concerns about PFAS are not new, however up until now we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. Although both of the best-known PFAS compounds, PFOS and PFOA, are well-researched and internationally regulated, this is not the case for the around 5,000 other PFAS. This is why the German Environment Agency is heavily involved in the efforts to place Europe-wide restrictions on the manufacture and use of PFAS as an entire group of substances. We should only allow absolutely necessary uses until a substitute substance is found." UBA is conducting research, also within European networks, to obtain new insights on this group of substances and to draw up measures for protecting human health and ecosystems. This includes monitoring PFAS levels in people and the environment. "The complexity of this group of pollutants makes a comprehensive expansion of research activities necessary," Messner noted. The German Environment Agency recently published a brochure on PFAS that provides comprehensive information on the state of research.

The virtual conference "PFAS – Dealing with contaminants of emerging concern" focuses on current developments and new scientific findings. Political decision-makers and high-level researchers from 19 European countries, North America, Australia and Asia will take part in the expert discussions. The keynote speaker at the international PFAS conference is the American chemist, author and environmental activist Arlene Blum. She is the founder of the Green Science Policy Institute, which produces scientific studies and engages in political activities that have contributed to a ban on some harmful chemicals in everyday products. In addition to reports on the current regulations and activities at EU level, the conference will also feature talks from Europe and Australia that present strategies and measures for handling PFAS contamination of soils and groundwater. Finally, remediation strategies and techniques will be introduced. The UBA guide "Remediation management for local and wide-spread PFAS contaminations" will also be presented. Two panel discussions are planned to spark multi-stakeholder dialogue among the participants and clarify various viewpoints. These will illuminate the positions and expectations of the participants, how politics handles "new" groups of pollutants and the consequences experience with PFAS may have for emerging pollutants of the future.

PFAS-contaminated soil and groundwater are discovered regularly. More and more studies show that PFAS, which are used in numerous everyday products for their water and stain-resisting properties, are a serious danger to the environment. Soil and water contaminated with PFAS also pose a risk to human health because the substances can leach into drinking water and food. Two years ago, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) drastically lowered the tolerable weekly intake (TWI) level of the major PFAS, reducing it a thousandfold. EFSA reduced the tolerable intake level once more very recently.

At European level, the Council and Parliament are advocating further regulatory activities applying to PFAS. In October 2020, the European Commission presented a comprehensive package of measures for regulating PFAS in its chemicals strategy. Among the most important initiatives in the strategy is the gradual phase-out of the use of persistent substances such as per- and polyflourinated alkyl substances.

30.11.2020 | Press release No. 217/20 | Soil Conservation
Joint press release with the Umweltbundesamt (UBA)
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