The Impact of Bioaccumulants in the Food Chain
Per and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) are a group of chemicals that are resistant to oils, water and heat, making them some of the most useful components of stain-resistant fabrics, cleaning products, paint, and firefighting foams in the 21st century. PFAS molecules are made up of fluorine atoms along a carbon backbone. As the carbon-fluorine bond is one of the strongest covalent bonds, these molecules tend not to readily degrade in the environment. In fact, the half-life of short-chain PFAS materials is typically between two and five years. This persistence means these chemicals have been found in unusual places: in May this year a paper was published by Miner et al (2021) which identified PFAS in meltwater and snow samples from Mt. Everest and PFAS have also been found in blood samples taken from polar bears in the Arctic.
PFAS can enter the food chain through drinking water, food, or even inhalation or absorption of particles. With thousands of PFAS compounds, understanding of their effects is still in its infancy, but we know some are bioaccumulative in humans and animals, and studies show two of the most common, PFOA and PFOS, can cause negative reproductive, developmental, liver, kidney, and immunological effects in lab subjects.
In addition to PFAS, many other chemicals can accumulate in food and the environment, such as:
- Natural toxins from fungi, algae, or plants, including some weeds and sea plankton
- Metals and inorganic substances such as lead, mercury and chemicals from agriculture such as nitrates
- Veterinary medicines that have limited or prohibited use in food-producing animals
- Environmental contaminants from industrial or consumer chemicals
- Process contaminants, which form during processes such as high-temperature cooking
With such a wide variety of ways that potentially harmful materials can be introduced into our food chain, how can we be sure that the food and water that we consume is safe?
The European Union Reference Laboratory (EURL) European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) has developed a strategy to replace, reduce and refine the use of fish in aquatic toxicity and bioaccumulation testing: Bioaccumulation in Fish: Aqueous and Dietary Exposure: OECD test guideline 305/ EU test method C.13. Published in 2014, this guideline provides an overview of ongoing projects and outlines testing principles and revisions.
While the US EPA proposed a rule on 29th July 2019 for the Regulation of Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and Toxic Chemicals under TSCA (Toxic Substance Control Act) Section 6(h), they recently sought comments on amendments to the proposed rule (16th March 2021).
Food, water and environmental testing is vital to monitor the presence of bioaccumulative compounds and help us protect human, aquatic and terrestrial food chains. Without proper regulations and regular testing, sources of potentially harmful contaminants can be missed, putting human and animal health at risk.
Scientists from The US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) are supporting an aggressive program of research on human exposure to PFAS chemicals and the potential effects of PFAS on human health and development. The National Toxicology Program conducts studies on PFAS as a larger effort to assess these chemicals and NIEHS further supports research by providing funding to universities and research centres.
These research agencies need the best reference materials to enable the detection of these potentially harmful compounds. As they continue to develop methods to detect these bioaccumulants, Dr Ehrenstorfer continues to introduce new, high-quality reference materials to help drive their research. In response to new food threats we are constantly innovating, and are launching 65 new bioaccumulant reference materials, including a range of PFAS standards, to safeguard the integrity of your products and processes in this evolving landscape.
With more than 700 bioaccumulant reference materials in total, including native and labelled compounds, our Dr Ehrenstorfer range is designed to help you ensure safe residue levels of PFAS, pesticides, FCMs, heavy metals and other bioaccumulative compounds in food and to aid compliance with increasingly tight global regulation.
High-quality reference materials are essential for accurate analytical measurement and quality control, ensuring sound decisions are made based on reliable data. The majority of our reference materials and certified reference materials are produced under the scope of our ISO 17034 accreditation and verified in accordance with ISO IEC 17025 to guarantee the highest quality.
Recent additions to our extensive portfolio include:
Used as a flame retardant
A food contact material found in tea and cocoa products.
An effective insect repellent or insecticide.