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Environ Int. 2016 Sep;94:331-340. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2016.04.044. Epub 2016 Jun 20.

The precautionary principle and chemicals management: The example of perfluoroalkyl acids in groundwater.

Author information

1
Department of Environmental Science and Analytical Chemistry (ACES), Stockholm University, SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden. Electronic address: ian.cousins@aces.su.se.
2
Department of Environmental Science and Analytical Chemistry (ACES), Stockholm University, SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden.
3
Institute for Chemical and Bioengineering, ETH Zurich, CH-8093 Zurich, Switzerland.
4
Institute for Chemical and Bioengineering, ETH Zurich, CH-8093 Zurich, Switzerland; RECETOX, Masaryk University, 625 00 Brno, Czech Republic.

Abstract

Already in the late 1990s microgram-per-liter levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) were measured in water samples from areas where fire-fighting foams were used or spilled. Despite these early warnings, the problems of groundwater, and thus drinking water, contaminated with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) including PFOS are only beginning to be addressed. It is clear that this PFAS contamination is poorly reversible and that the societal costs of clean-up will be high. This inability to reverse exposure in a reasonable timeframe is a major motivation for application of the precautionary principle in chemicals management. We conclude that exposure can be poorly reversible; 1) due to slow elimination kinetics in organisms, or 2) due to poorly reversible environmental contamination that leads to continuous exposure. In the second case, which is relevant for contaminated groundwater, the reversibility of exposure is not related to the magnitude of a chemical's bioaccumulation potential. We argue therefore that all PFASs entering groundwater, irrespective of their perfluoroalkyl chain length and bioaccumulation potential, will result in poorly reversible exposures and risks as well as further clean-up costs for society. To protect groundwater resources for future generations, society should consider a precautionary approach to chemicals management and prevent the use and release of highly persistent and mobile chemicals such as PFASs.

KEYWORDS:

Chemicals management; Drinking water; PFASs; Precautionary principle

PMID:
27337597
DOI:
10.1016/j.envint.2016.04.044
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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