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Health risk from PFAS in food

PFAS accumulate in the environment and can therefore be found in food and in our food chain.
Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of substances with more than 4700 substances. They are carbon chains, i.e. organic compounds, and the hydrogen atoms are either perfluorinated or polyfluorinated. They are thus completely or partially replaced by fluorine atoms.
PFASs are industrial chemicals, i.e. they do not occur naturally. Due to their water-, dirt-, and grease-repellent properties, they are used in many different products: textiles, cosmetics, paper, and cooking utensils. These substances are persistent and difficult to degrade – so they can accumulate in the environment and humans.


How do PFAS get into food?


PFAS cannot be split and degraded by e.g. microorganisms and solar radiation, so they accumulate in the environment. PFASs accumulated in sewage sludge cannot be degraded either. They enter soils and waters, are taken up by plants and animals, and in turn enter the food chain e.g. fish, seafood, fruit and vegetables etc.


Table 1: Levels of PFAS in various foods


Health risk from PFAS


The health risk posed by PFAS has been re-evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and a Tolerable Weekly Intake (TWI) has been established. This is 4.4ng per kg body weight per week.

This TWI is valid for the sum of the four PFAS:
1. perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS).
2. perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
3. perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA)
4. perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS)
In a new statement, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) gives the recommendation to consider the TWI from EFSA.
It has been observed that PFAS are metabolized very slowly by the human body and can therefore accumulate in the body. In children in whom PFAS were detected in the blood, fewer vaccine antibodies were produced.
Currently, there are no legal maximum levels for PFAS in food in the EU.


Calculation of the weekly intake for fish


Referring to the TWI of 0.0044 µg/kg body weight, an adult with an average body weight of 76.37 kg may consume 0.34 µg of the sum of the 4 PFASs weekly and a child with an average body weight of 16.15 kg may consume 0.07 µg. The weekly consumption level for chronic exposure for fish is 0.2038 kg for an adult and 0.0392 kg for a child, giving a maximum concentration of PFAS in fish of 1.65 µg/kg for an adult and 1.81 µg/kg for a child.

At these low concentrations in fish/products, the TWI would already be 100% exhausted.


How can bilacon support you?


bilacon routinely tests foods and soils for the following PFAS:

  • Perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA)
  • Perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA)
  • Perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA)
  • Perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS)
  • Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
  • Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)
  • Perfluoropentanoic acid (PFPea)
  • Perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS)
  • Perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA)
  • Perfluorododecanoic acid (PFDaA)
  • Perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA)

The EFSA has indicated the need for sensitive analytical methods for PFAS. The special analytical laboratory of bilacon is able to meet this recommendation with the help of the latest technology and to offer you low limits of quantification.


Would you like to learn more about our services? Contact our expert directly, we will be glad to help you:


Roy Sperling
+49 30 206 038 320

Source: BfR

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