PFAS Ecotoxicity Risks: How SERDP is Closing the Knowledge Gaps

ERecotoxBlog 5-29-19

Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) formulations have been used to suppress fires since the 1970s, which has resulted in sites with associated per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) contamination. PFAS have been shown, in laboratory studies, to have potential adverse health effects and negatively affect autotrophic and heterotrophic food webs. With a Health Advisory Level for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water of 70 parts per trillion (individually or as a sum of the two), there is a need for a better understanding of ecotoxicity risks to help with the development of site-specific risk assessments. Since 2016, SERDP has released three Statements of Need (SONs) aimed at developing a better understanding of ecotoxicity risks from PFAS at AFFF-impacted sites. A summary of these, and other PFAS-related projects, can be found in the overall program description.

The initial group of ecotoxicity risk projects that SERDP funded in 2016 were focused on improving the understanding of ecotoxicity of compounds associated with the release of AFFF. The selected projects, listed below, are working to develop toxicity reference values (TRVs) for wildlife (avian, amphibian, fish, invertebrate, and mammalian) for PFAS to support ecological assessments and risk management decisions at DoD AFFF-impacted sites.

In 2019, SERDP began funding a group of projects to address the characterization of ecological risks of PFAS in the subsurface. Dr. Marie Kurz at Drexel University is studying the pathways and rates of uptake, bioaccumulation, and biomagnification of subsurface-derived PFASs within warm water stream ecosystems to help quantitatively predict and assess the risks of PFASs to aquatic wildlife and humans ( Project Webpage). At Towson University, Dr. Christopher Salice will develop an improved understanding and an effective model for uptake and accumulation of PFASs in several species of freshwater fish to support monitoring, risk assessment, and risk communication efforts related to DoD installations contaminated with PFASs ( Project Webpage). Dr. Roman Kuperman of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command - Chemical Biological Center is focused on developing empirical data for the uptake and elimination kinetics of PFASs in terrestrial organisms at different trophic levels in order to determine food-web biomagnification potentials for common PFASs ( Project Webpage). Dr. Matt Simcik of the University of Minnesota is leading a project focused on determining bioaccumulation dynamics of individual PFASs from complex mixtures as well as uptake and elimination rates of PFASs in the benthic organism, Hyalella azteca, and a common fish model (Pimephales promelas) when exposed to simulated groundwater while varying environmental complexity ( Project Webpage).

In 2018, SERDP began funding four projects to develop  the basis for novel approaches for assessing PFAS risks to threatened and endangered (T&E) species. To fill this knowledge gap, these projects will provide a framework for conducting risk assessments of PFASs in T&E species, a guidance on approaches to quantitively assess and manage PFAS risks, a tiered framework to assess PFAS environmental exposure and risk to T&E species, and a risk characterization approach for T&E species potentially exposed to PFASs at AFFF-impacted sites.

Several SERDP investigators will be presenting their research at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) North America Focused Topic Meeting titled “Environmental Risk Assessment of PFAS” on August 12-15, 2019 in Durham, NC. Additional meeting information can be found on the meeting website.

Summaries of these research projects are available on the SERDP and ESTCP website and all reports originating from these efforts will be available from the project web pages.

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