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Targeting PFAS and other bioaccumulants in the food chain

mount everst snow


The world is waking up to the threat of per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) and other leading bioaccumulants in the food chain.


Globally, regulators are ramping up their responses to multiple scientific studies and growing public concern about the impact of PFAS - a group of chemicals whose resistance to oils, water, and heat made them useful components of stain resistant fabrics, cleaning products, paint, and firefighting foams throughout the 20th century.


PFAS molecules are made up of fluorine atoms along a carbon backbone. However, as the carbon-fluorine bond is one of the strongest covalent bonds, they tend not to readily degrade in the environment. Although Northwestern University researchers recently announced a potentially exciting method for breaking down 10 PFAS substances into benign compounds, the half-life of short chain PFAS materials is currently between two and five years. These persistent chemicals have been found in unusual places, such as meltwater and snow samples from Mount Everest , as well as blood samples taken from Polar Bears in the Arctic. 


PFAS can enter the food chain through drinking water, food, or even inhalation and absorption of particles, and are bioaccumulative in humans and animals – taking an estimated eight to 12 years to exit the human body. Studies show two of the most common - perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) - can cause negative reproductive, developmental, liver, kidney, and immunological effects in lab subjects. A recent study from the University of Southern California also became the first to identify a link between PFOS and increased risk of liver cancer, based on human samples. 



Other major bioaccumulants threatening the food chain


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, or mercury, and chemicals from agriculture, such as nitrates


- Veterinary medicines which 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 



high temperature cooking


With such a wide variety of ways that potentially harmful materials can be introduced, food, water and environmental testing is vital to monitor the presence of bioaccumulative compounds, to 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.


That’s why the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that 2022 would be a year of ‘laser focus’ on PFAS – unveiling a $10 billion dollar strategy to restrict and clean up the so-called ‘forever chemicals’ in US watercourses, as well as increasing research.  It also doubled down on PFAS water pollution by lowering recommended exposure levels for PFOA and PFOS from 70 parts per trillion (ppt) to 0.004 ppt and 0.02 ppt, respectively.


The European Union will also take the first steps towards restricting the manufacture, marketing and use of more than 6,000 PFAS substances early in 2023. This move follows the European Chemicals Agency’s proposal in January 2022 to restrict PFAS in firefighting foams, as well as separate plans to curb perfluorinated carboxylic acids (C9-14 PFCAs), perfluorohexane-1-sulphonic acid (PFHxS), and undecafluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA). China, meanwhile, has released its own New Pollutant Management Action Plan, which proposes strict restrictions on PFOS and PFOA, while the EU has also recently announced new initiatives aimed at reducing major non-PFAS bioaccumulants, such as agricultural pesticides and veterinary drugs.


These regulators and their research agencies need the best reference materials to enable the detection of these potentially harmful compounds. As they continue to develop methods to detect bioaccumulants, Dr Ehrenstorfer continues to introduce new, high quality products to help drive their research.



PFASiMix, the newest edition to the Dr Ehrenstorfer Smart Solutions portfolio, improves your laboratory’s efficiency with its mixture of 27 PFAS analytes, designed for maximum stability. By removing the need to develop your own mixtures and reducing calibration runs, PFASiMix frees up valuable laboratory resources. And because it’s a robust ISO 17034 mixture, you can avoid error-prone preparations and be confident in the validity of your results.



With more than 1,000 bioaccumulant reference materials, including native and labelled compounds, our Dr Ehrenstorfer range is designed to help analytical scientists worldwide ensure safe residue levels of PFAS, pesticides, Food Contact Materials, heavy metals and other bioaccumulative compounds in food, and aid laboratories’ compliance with increasingly tight global regulation.


From pesticides to PFAS, we’re here to support your analytical testing for bioaccumulants throughout the food production process, and help you ensure the quality of products that make it to market. The majority of our 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.



More new additions to our bioaccumulant products portfolio


PBDE No. 32 - Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are often used as fire retardants in furniture foam, consumer electronics, and back-coatings for upholstery.


Glyphosate  - One of the most widely used herbicides with applications in agriculture, forestry, industrial weed control, lawns, gardens, and aquatic environments.


Propamocarb 100 µg/mL in Acetonitrile - a systemic fungicide used to control soil, root and leaf disease caused by oomycetes.



To view our full portfolio of food reference materials, click here. Or get in touch today to find out how we can assist you, whatever your laboratory’s needs. 


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