STEEP scientists organized a session at the SETAC (Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry) Europe 28th Annual Meeting, held May 13–17 2018 in Rome, Italy, attracting 2,600 delegates.  The session “From Detection to Action: Advancements in Assessing and Managing Highly Fluorinated Compounds” was led by STEEP Trainee Xindi Hu (Harvard University), STEEP Director Rainer Lohmann (URI), and Jon Benskin, (Stockholm University).

Past and ongoing production and use of legacy and alternative poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has been recognized as one of the biggest challenges in chemical management. With the development of advanced chemical analytical methods, hundreds of highly fluorinated compounds have been detected in humans and the environment. However, considerable gaps exist in linking the vast amount of data to actionable strategies for reducing wildlife and human exposures and associated adverse health effects. This is due to the limited understanding of physical–chemical properties of alternative PFAS, relative importance of environmental and human exposure routes, and variable mechanisms of toxicity across compounds and across species. This session provided a forum to share advances in monitoring and modeling efforts that help to better quantify exposure to PFAS and associated health impacts.

Strong interest for the session was expressed through 28 high-quality presentations and more than 70 participants. Principal investigators, postdoctoral scientists and three graduate students gave six platform presentations, which were organized in the order of advancements in analytical chemistry, evaluation of physical chemical properties, environmental fate and exposure modeling, and remediation.

Gabriel Munoz from the University of Montreal, Canada, kicked off the session with a talk on development of a method for measuring a wide range of PFAS in soil samples at aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF)-impacted sites. Current methods for analysis of perfluoroalkyl acid (PFAA) could seriously underperform for certain newly identified PFAS. His talk proposed a suitable preparation procedure for the multi-residue analysis of PFAS that improved the method recovery for many PFAS, such as betaines (improved from 30–50 % to 70–105%). Ongoing work involves method development for PFAS in biota to support better evaluation of PFAS bioaccumulation. Munoz presented a companion poster titled “Assessment of persulfate oxidation liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry for the analysis of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances in water.”

Raphael Janousek from the University of Applied Sciences, Germany, presented his work on PFAS in products used in the building industry and industrial textiles. A total of 23 samples from products used in the building industry and 28 industrial textiles were investigated. Monitoring covered 29 PFAS with chain lengths from C4 to C14, including carboxylic acids, sulfonic acids, sulfonamides and fluorotelomer alcohols (FTOHs). FTOHs accounted for more than 80% of the sum of PFAS detected. In addition, he a worst-case scenario calculation was presented to estimate the emission potential from the entire building industry in Germany.

Clifton Dassuncao from Harvard University, USA, and STEEP trainee presented findings from a longitudinal cohort study among a seafood-consuming population in Faroe Islands. A variety of novel tools were used, including advanced statistical analysis and toxicokinetic modeling. Despite the global efforts to reduce production and emission for long-chain legacy PFAS, work done by Dassuncao and colleagues suggested that PFAS concentrations in seafood have not decreased as rapidly due to their extreme persistence in the marine environment. Over the study period of 1993 to 2012, PFAS exposures from consumer products have become increasingly important.

Steven Droge from University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, presented his work that filled an important data gap in understanding the physical–chemical properties of a wide variety of PFAS. A model based on quantum chemistry, COSMOtherm, was able to predict both the membrane-water partitioning (Kmw) and pKa of emerging ionic PFAS. However, experimental data using solid supported lipid membranes highlighted that COSMOtherm misinterpreted the membrane affinity of anionic perfluorinated surfactants. This work has important implications for environmental fate modeling and risk assessment of PFAS.

Charlotte Wagner from Harvard University, USA, presented a large-scale modeling exercise on the burden of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) in the global oceans. Using a global marine circulation model, MITgcm, and an updated spatially resolved emission inventory from Europe, North America and China, this work estimated that historical total discharge into the ocean from Europe was to a similar amount as that from North America. The contribution of Chinese emissions to the PFOS concentration in the surface ocean currently is small but may increase over time.

The session ended on a positive note with a talk focusing on solutions, given by Gijs Breedveld from the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute. He presented two case studies on identification of point and diffusive source of PFAS inputs, environmental behavior in multiple environmental media as well as suitable remediation methods for different sites. The first case study was at Oslo airport, where aqueous film forming foam (AFFF( was used for firefighting purposes. Two remediation methods using sorbent amendment and in situ soil washing showed promises to reduce leaching and improve ground water quality. The second case study was in Tyrifjorden, where PFAS profiles were identified in different sources to determine their distinct chemical signatures.

The talks and posters presented at this session highlighted the scientific challenges faced by society in managing the entire class of PFAS. Due to their unique surfactant properties and deviation from traditional persistent organic pollutants, innovative methods are needed to effectively assess and manage PFAS. By integrating up-to-date knowledge, highlighting state-of-the-art research tools and identifying critical gaps for decision-making, this session aimed at advancing efforts to reduce ubiquitous exposure to PFAS, avoiding regrettable substitution and reducing risks to public health.

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