PFAS industrial chemicals: Some population groups sometimes exceed the health-based guidance value

The diet of some population groups in Germany exceeds the health-based guidance value for certain industrially produced perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS). These are the results of a statement by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). "PFAS are undesirable in food," says Professor Dr. Tanja Schwerdtle, Vice President of the BfR. "Although the PFAS levels in the population's blood have decreased significantly in recent decades, current studies indicate that present levels are still too high." However, there are currently still scientific uncertainties in estimating how much PFAS is actually ingested and which health impairments are to be expected. "People in Germany don’t really have any means to influence the intake of PFAS. It is all the more important to close data gaps and further reduce their intake despite the downward trend," added Vice President Schwerdtle.

The overall view of the results shows that parts of the population in Germany are exposed to levels of certain PFAS that exceed the health-based guidance value. The infants of affected mothers who have been subject to prolonged breastfeeding may have a reduced concentration of vaccine antibodies in their blood serum for the first years of life. So far, there is insufficient data to assess whether these children actually display a generally increased risk of infection. The data available to assess whether, at a corresponding level of exposure, there is any effect on the level of the concentrations of vaccine antibodies in adults and adolescents is also currently inadequate.

Possible risks from a reduced formation of vaccine antibodies in children who had prolonged breastfeeding are countered by the numerous and well-researched benefits of long breastfeeding for both child and mother.

The median exposure of adults and adolescents is in the range of the tolerable intake for PFAS. This means that in around 50 percent of adults and adolescents, long-term dietary intake exceeds the health-based guidance value of PFAS. Particularly high levels of PFAS were found in offal, in the meat of wild animals and in certain fish species.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a new tolerable weekly intake in 2020. In the current opinion, the BfR has checked the derivation of the new health-based guidance value and recommends that it be used for risk assessments in the future.

Perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) are industrial chemicals which, due to their water, grease and dirt-repellent properties, are widely used in industrial processes and consumer products such as non-stick coated pans, outdoor clothing and cosmetics. PFAS are very durable and can now be detected everywhere - in the environment, in the food chain and in the human body.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. The BfR advises the Federal Government and the States ('Laender') on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.

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