On February 5 - 6, Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantees provided their expertise and perspectives during the Federal Information Exchange on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Bethesda, Maryland. PFAS chemicals have received increasing attention because they have been found in several drinking water systems and have been linked to reproductive, developmental, liver, kidney, and immunological effects.
Hosted by the Toxics and Risks Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council, the workshop provided a forum to share emerging data and key knowledge gaps in the sources, pathways, treatment, and health effects of PFAS. SRP grantees Raymond Ball, Ph.D., Jennifer Guelfo, Ph.D., and Angela Slitt, Ph.D., participated in the workshop.
"The meeting was informative and underlined the magnitude of the PFAS problem," said Ball, president and principal engineer at the NIEHS-funded small business EnChem Engineering. As part of his SRP project, Ball's team is developing a technology to expedite the removal of PFAS from soil and groundwater.
The meeting opened with remarks from senior government officials, including NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Environmental Health Director Patrick Breysse, Ph.D. Following talks from researchers about new findings in their areas of expertise, federal employees and federally funded researchers participated in breakout sessions to discuss current scientific knowledge and future directions.
"The meeting provided a platform for researchers and employees across federal agencies to hear how each is engaged in science and decision-making regarding PFAS," said Guelfo, a researcher at the Brown University SRP Center. Her recent work has focused on using publicly available data to develop models that predict areas with potential PFAS groundwater contamination.
"Given that PFAS includes thousands of compounds, one recurring theme was the need for methods for prioritizing compounds and the need to understand the influence of mixtures," Guelfo added. "There was also a lot of discussion about developing standard methods for PFAS analysis."
In addition to discussions about routes of exposure and treatment methods, time was set aside to discuss the current understanding of the health effects of PFAS. Slitt, a grantee at the University of Rhode Island SRP Center, is studying whether PFAS exposure increases the risk for obesity-induced fatty liver disease and metabolic disorders.
In the final session, participants discussed risk assessment, consideration of data needs for protecting human health, and ongoing coordination and communication across federal agencies. The workshop was immediately followed by a closed Toxics and Risks Subcommittee meeting to discuss how these findings will inform agencies moving forward.