An editorial published in the May 2015 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives, calls for research to find safe alternatives for all current uses of poly- and perfluoroalkyl acids (PFASs). Research suggests that long-chain PFASs are highly persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic. In the “Madrid Statement on Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs)” scientists, however, question the use of the entire class of PFASs, including short-chain fluorinated alternatives (FPF reported). In the editorial, Philippe Grandjean of the University of Southern Denmark /Harvard School of Public Health, U.S. and Linda Birnbaum, Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), U.S. highlight that the “Helsingør Statement on PFASs” and other publications suggest that shorter-chain alternatives are similar to the long-chain PFASs in terms of their chemical structure, environmental persistence, and hazardous potential for both the environment and humans. Grandjean and Birnbaum stress that in case of the long-chain PFASs, research raised concern for many years before action was taken. To avoid a similar situation, potential risks of the short-chain PFASs should be taken into account when choosing alternatives. Since it is challenging to develop substitutes that match the function and performance level of PFASs, significant innovation is required to find functional and safe nonfluorinated alternatives to PFASs. Research is also needed to understand the potential for adverse health effects from exposure to the short-chain PFASs. Grandjean and Birnbaum pose the questions of whether these chemicals should be used in consumer products in the meantime, given their persistence in the environment, and whether consumers are willing to give up certain product functionalities to protect themselves against potential health risks. “These conundrums cannot be resolved by science alone but need to be considered in an open discussion informed by the scientific evidence.”, according to Grandjean and Birnbaum.
Birnbaum, L.S. and Grandjean, P. (2015). “Alternatives to PFASs: Perspectives on the science.” Environmental Health Perspectives 123, 5, A104-105 (open access).