Contaminants update: first of two opinions on PFAS in food

EFSA has proposed to revise the tolerable intakes of two chemical contaminants to which humans are exposed through the food chain as a result of environmental pollution. This is the first of two assessments of substances collectively known as perfluoroalkylated substances (PFAS), and therefore the conclusions are provisional and will be reviewed while the second part is completed.

This first scientific opinion concerns the main PFAS, known as perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), two man-made chemicals, which have been used widely in industrial and consumer applications since the mid-20th century. They persist in the environment because they degrade slowly. Furthermore, they can accumulate in the human body, meaning it can take many years to eliminate them.

Ongoing work and next steps

The European Commission asked EFSA to reassess the risks PFAS pose to human health using data that has become available since its original assessment in 2008.

The CONTAM Panel’s work on its second assessment of the remaining PFAS is ongoing. It will focus on possible risks to human health from PFASs other than PFOS and PFOA and EFSA will publicly consult on the draft opinion. In addition, since these substances are often present as mixtures in the food chain, EFSA’s development of frameworks for assessing combined exposure to multiple chemicals – scheduled for finalisation in spring 2019 – will feed into this work.

The production, placing on the market and use of PFOS is regulated by EU laws on persistent organic pollutants (Regulation EC 850/2004). Restrictions related to PFOA manufacture and placement on the market will come into effect on 4 July 2020, following scientific evaluations by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).

Discussing scientific divergences

EFSA met with experts from ECHA and from Member States who recently looked at the safety of these substances, to discuss the main differences from previous PFOS/PFOA evaluations. These included the Panel’s scientific approach, important new sources of data and the remaining scientific uncertainties. A meeting report is available below.

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