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March 16, 2023

White House OSTP Releases State of Science Report on PFAS

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

The National Science and Technology Council announced on March 14, 2023, that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a state of science report on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The report was prepared by the interagency PFAS Strategy Team created by OSTP at the direction of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021. It provides an analysis of the state of the science of PFAS and information that will be used to direct the development of a federal strategic plan. The report focuses on the current science of PFAS as a chemical class, identifies scientific consensus, and portrays uncertainties in the scientific information where consensus is still sought. The report identifies four key strategic areas that, when addressed, will generate actionable information to address PFAS:

  • Removal, destruction, or degradation of PFAS: This section details technologies used for removal, safe destruction, and degradation of PFAS in various environmental media (e.g., air, water), including benefits and limitations of existing technologies;
  • Safer and environmentally friendlier alternatives: This section highlights ongoing activities around the development of safer and more environmentally friendly alternatives that are functionally similar to those made with PFAS. Specific challenges highlighted include firefighting foams, industrial uses, food packaging and contact materials, pesticides, textiles, recreation products, cosmetics and personal care products, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices. An important consideration to advancing this area of research and development is identifying critical uses of PFAS;
  • Sources and pathways of exposure: PFAS sources, releases, fate and transport considerations, and potential pathways of exposure, such as exposure media and routes, are detailed. Mitigation efforts and health-protective measures cannot be implemented without the ability to detect PFAS at levels of concern. Addressing the challenge of developing additional analytical methods with higher sensitivity to detect both single PFAS and mixtures of PFAS is a critical opportunity to accelerate advancement across all other areas; and
  • Toxicity: PFAS toxicity information is informed by laboratory animal data, ecological data, human health data, and predictive modeling information. To leverage fully the understanding of PFAS toxicity, a weight-of-evidence approach that takes into account the different evidence streams is needed. Because of the large number of PFAS currently identified in commerce, one goal of future research is to determine whether all PFAS, or specific groups, might pose a similar hazard to human and ecological receptors. The report notes that such PFAS groupings may provide a means by which agencies might regulate PFAS for the protection of humans and ecological receptors.

The report identifies data gaps within each strategic area to provide a roadmap for research and development (R&D) activities that, when addressed, will generate actionable information to guide federal agencies and PFAS collaborators and partners. Over the next year, the PFAS Strategy Team will operationalize a strategic plan and implementation framework that organizes and coordinates activities in these strategic areas by harnessing existing research and accelerating transformative advancements. The report states that information generated will inform PFAS advisories, disposal approaches, and development of PFAS alternatives, and fuel other innovative public health actions.