TORONTO — Cheryl Murphy, a researcher from the Michigan State University (MSU) Center for PFAS Research, delivered a presentation on the persistent issue of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) conference here. 

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals known for their resistance to degradation, making them a potential threat to human health and the environment. These chemicals, commonly found in industrial applications and consumer products such as food packaging and cleaning agents, have the ability to bioaccumulate and persist in the environment.

Murphy emphasized the global prevalence of PFAS contamination, highlighting their presence in air, groundwater, surface water and even in the blood of almost all humans worldwide. These “forever chemicals” have become a significant environmental concern, with manufacturing sites, military bases and airports being major sources of contamination.

Health concerns
The researcher’s presentation focused on the detrimental effects of PFAS exposure on human health. Murphy explained that high levels of PFAS can negatively impact the endocrine, cardiovascular and immune systems, potentially leading to developmental issues, reduced vaccine efficacy, and obesity. Thyroid disease, increased cholesterol levels, breast cancer, and liver and kidney damage are also among the associated health risks.

Concerns were raised about PFAS entering the food supply through contaminated meat, poultry, fish and crops, as plants and animals can absorb and accumulate these substances. Murphy stressed that the exact extent of PFAS contamination in the environment and food supply, as well as the overall health risks posed by these chemicals, are still areas that require further study.

The MSU Center for PFAS Research, in line with its mission, aims to address these challenges by establishing a multidisciplinary team dedicated to comprehensive research, risk communication and the development of solutions. One goal is for the center to collaborate with state and federal partners, using outreach programs to engage with the community effectively.

During her talk, Murphy highlighted the need for reliable toxicity data on the vast number of PFAS chemicals, as well as the development of monitoring techniques and modeling to better understand PFAS transport and bioaccumulation. The lack of standardized methods for analyzing PFAS compounds in various matrices and the absence of effective remediation technologies were also emphasized.

Moreover, the presentation stressed the importance of assessing the risks associated with PFAS and communicating them effectively to the public and policymakers. Murphy mentioned the challenges posed by the uncertainty surrounding the number of chemicals in the environment, their accumulation, toxicity potential and the complex interactions between different PFAS mixtures.

Her talk concluded by emphasizing the urgency to develop safer alternatives to PFAS, as well as effective remediation technologies. The MSU Center for PFAS Research envisions a solutions-based approach that includes the development of measurement standards, mitigation strategies, green chemistry-guided alternatives and improved risk communication.

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