Extensive use of fluorinated substances with potential harmful effects

October 24, 2013, Technical University of Denmark

More and more scientific studies indicate that perfluorinated substances are carcinogenic or otherwise hazardous to health. In the Nordic countries, new per- and polyfluorinated substances are used to replace the known harmful ones. However, there is a need for new detection methods and more knowledge on their exposure and toxicity. An international workshop in Denmark co-organised by the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, will focus on these substances on 27-29 October 2013.

Fluorinated substances in various forms are found in many ordinary consumer goods. Some fluorinated substances may be problematic to the environment and health, for instance the so-called perfluorinated substances. These substances do not occur naturally in nature, are extremely persistent and accumulate in humans and animals.

A study performed by a number of Nordic research institutions including the National Food Institute shows that in the Nordic countries a large number of fluorinated substances are used. The few toxicological data available indicate specific toxic effects on humans and the environment.

Lack of data and analytical methods

The study also shows that there are considerable knowledge gaps concerning most fluorinated substances as to exact chemical composition in commercial products, quantities produced and extent of use in the Nordic market. One explanation may be trade secrets of companies in the Nordic market.

"Currently we lack the methods to detect most of the commercially used fluorinated substances which can end up in food and the environment. Therefore, there is a need to develop such methods and to better understand the biological mechanisms behind the potentially harmful effects of various fluorinated substances", says Ph.D. Xenia Trier, research chemist at the National Food Institute.

Substitution with other potentially harmful substances

If a fluorinated substance is considered toxic, this will often lead to substitution with other fluorinated substances with similar technical properties. However, we need both to test and understand the mechanisms which make fluorinated compounds toxic, so we don't make the mistake to substitute with another similar harmful chemical.

The good news is that since fluorinated substances are created by humans it is possible to decrease the use and thereby the human exposure.

For example, as the Nordic study illustrates the content of the fluorinated substance PFOS in human blood in the Western countries decreased after phasing out PFOS. However, the fluorinated substances used instead, which contain fluorotelomer alcohols, can degrade to other such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). 

"There is a need for further regulating the use of fluorinated substances in consumer products both nationally and globally", says Stefan Posner, senior researcher at Swerea IVF AB and lead author of the Nordic study.

International workshop

On 27-29 October 2013, the National Food Institute, University of Copenhagen, Stockholm University, University of Århus, the Nordic Institute of Product Sustainability, Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology, Hochschule Fresenius and University of Amsterdam organise the 5th international workshop on per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances - PFAS: Fluorinated compounds in materials, humans and the environment - current knowledge and scientific gaps, the PFAS/Nordfluor workshop.

The workshop will focus on the level of existing knowledge in the fields of epidemiology, analysis, exposure, human biomonitoring, transport, toxicity, production and regulation, and on areas where scientific knowledge is missing.

Explore further: New UN report on hormone-disrupting chemicals

More information: See the Nordic study: Per- and polyfluorinated substances in the Nordic Countries. Use, occurrence and toxicology (pdf).

Related Stories

New UN report on hormone-disrupting chemicals

February 20, 2013
An international team of scientific experts has expressed great concern about the effect of increasing exposure of humans and animals to hormone-disrupting substances. This comes in a new report commissioned by the UN Environment ...

Health risk from eating well-done meat may be underestimated

November 1, 2011
Mice are often used to test whether substances in food are harmful to humans. This requires that mice and humans metabolise substances in the same way. Humans have certain enzymes in more parts of the body than mice. The ...

Can environmental contaminants cause lower sperm count?

March 20, 2013
The amount of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) that mothers had in their blood during pregnancy affected their sons' semen quality at 20 years old. These findings appear in a recent study from Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark, ...

Recommended for you

Early physical therapy benefits low-back pain patients

May 22, 2018
Patients with low-back pain are better off seeing a physical therapist first, according to a study of 150,000 insurance claims.

Closing coal, oil power plants leads to healthier babies

May 22, 2018
Shuttering coal- and oil-fired power plants lowers the rate of preterm births in neighboring communities and improves fertility, according to two new University of California, Berkeley, studies.

Insufficient sleep, even without extended wakefulness, leads to performance impairments

May 21, 2018
Millions of individuals obtain insufficient sleep on a daily basis, which can lead to impaired performance and other adverse physiological outcomes. To what extent these impairments are caused by the short sleep duration ...

Avoiding the car for travel could significantly lower risk of illness and death

May 21, 2018
People who are more active when commuting to work by walking or cycling could be cutting their relative risk of developing ischaemic heart disease or stroke by 11% and their relative risk of dying from these diseases by 30%, ...

New study shows higher formaldehyde risk in e-cigarettes than previously thought

May 21, 2018
Portland State University researchers who published an article three years ago in the New England Journal of Medicine about the presence of previously undiscovered forms of formaldehyde in e-cigarette vapor revisited their ...

Sleep better, parent better: Study shows link between maternal sleep and permissive parenting

May 21, 2018
Research has shown that consistently not getting enough sleep, or getting poor quality sleep, can put you at risk for a number of health conditions. But how does sleep, or the lack of it, affect how you parent?


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.