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Innovative Training Network on PER and polyfluorinated alkyl substances towards the Future Of Research and its Communication in Europe 3

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PERFORCE3 (Innovative Training Network on PER and polyfluorinated alkyl substances towards the Future Of Research and its Communication in Europe 3)

Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2021-12-31

What is the problem/issue being addressed?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of highly persistent and ubiquitous contaminants of global concern. PFAS are used in multiple applications, including polymer manufacturing, personal care products, stain-resistant coatings, and firefighting foams. Although PFAS are useful in society, some PFAS have been shown to be globally present in the environment, wildlife and humans, and to negatively affect environmental and human health. The extent of contamination and the risks that the many substances in the PFAS class pose to humans and the environment are still being elucidated and just beginning to be understood from a regulatory context. Therefore, PFAS pose major challenges to scientists across a wide range of disciplines, whether it is analytical chemistry, exposure science, toxicology, health risk assessment, development of alternatives, remediation or policy.

Why is it important for society?
The ITN PERFORCE3 will greatly improve the understanding of PFAS leading to an improved risk-assessment framework and policies, alternative ‘green’ chemistries, as well as new tools for remediation and environmental monitoring. It is envisioned that the link between cutting-edge science and risk assessment will generate more effective decision-making tools, which in turn will be beneficial to protect public health and promote societal sustainability not only in Europe, but also globally. In particular, there is currently a restriction proposal being prepared in the EU to regulate all PFAS under the REACH regulation. Given the many uses of PFAS in society, they cannot be phased out overnight. The knowledge generated in the PERFORCE3 project will provide vital scientific information to guide a smooth phaseout of PFAS and transition to other greener chemistries.

What are the overall objectives?
PERFORCE3 is a multi-partner joint doctoral research training network with the overall aims of educating 15 Early Stage Researchers (ESRs), advancing the current understanding of PFAS, and providing innovative solutions to PFAS contamination problems. PERFORCE3 has six specific research objectives and five training objectives. The research objectives are: developing novel analytical techniques for human matrices and relevant exposure media, improving understanding of human exposure pathways, assessing and understanding the toxicological properties of alternative and legacy PFAS, assessing the nature and extent of human exposure to legacy and alternative PFAS and associated health effects, developing new solutions to PFAS contamination problems, and communicating the PERFORCE3 research results to the scientific community, policy-makers, stakeholders, and the general public. The training objectives are: providing an optimum learning environment through exposure to multidisciplinary research on PFAS, fostering the individual careers of the ESRs by providing a broad scientific training, providing the ESRs opportunities for multi-partner collaboration through targeted visits and secondments, providing complementary training in transferable skills, and providing the ESRs with lifetime skills and optimum opportunities to extend their personal international collaborative network.
Good progress has been made in the implementation of the project, despite delays in the recruitment of the 15 ESRs due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Research in PERFORCE3 is divided into three work packages (WPs): WP1 (Analytical tools and Exposure Science), WP2 (Toxicology and Epidemiology) and WP3 (Solutions). In WP1, multiple novel analytical methods have been developed and applied. Preliminary results have been reported for various exposure media (consumer products, air, dermal and drinking water). In WP2, various novel in vitro methods were developed and applied. In addition, studies on PFAS in human blood samples from different cohorts have been initiated to support epidemiological studies. In WP3, new PFAS were synthesized and tested, alternative assessments performed, and various clean up technologies for PFAS investigated.
The project contains four additional WPs focused on: translation of research results for regulatory and/or stakeholder use (WP4), training (WP5), project management (WP6), and dissemination and outreach (WP7). The project management structure and the training programme were setup at early stages of the project. Five Advanced Training Course (ATCs) were delivered and rated very positively. A website (https://perforce3-itn.eu/) was established for sharing information about the project, its activities, and the generated results. To date, three blog posts and three short videos have been published. The project can also be followed on social media (e.g. Twitter and LinkedIn). A particular highlight from the first reporting period is the launch of the podcast series PFASology, created jointly by the 15 ESRs (see figure below and https://perforce3-itn.eu/).
PERFORCE3 provides progress beyond the state of the art in several sub-fields of PFAS research. In WP1, novel analytical methods have been developed for characterizing PFAS in consumer products and human tissues. With a combination of these analytical tools (i.e. for total fluorine, extractable organic fluorine, total oxidizable precursor assay, targeted PFAS analysis, and suspect/non-target PFAS analysis), it is possible to perform fluorine mass balances in a variety of media. Additionally, targeted analytical methods have been developed for analyzing novel and emerging PFAS in relevant exposure media. These new analytical methods will be valuable for the project, but also for the wider scientific and regulatory community.
In WP2, novel in vitro toxicological methods have been developed to investigate mixture toxicity of PFAS for different endpoints and effects are also being investigated at the population level through epidemiological studies. The results of WP2 will directly support the work to better understand the risks to mixtures of PFAS. Additionally, linking in vitro tests to population-level effects is vital to gain a mechanistic understanding of how PFAS affect human health.
Of particular importance to society are solutions to PFAS pollution. In WP3, new potentially biodegradable PFAS have been synthesized and their biodegradability tested. Alternative assessments have been performed, which are vital to ensure a safe substitution of PFAS. Novel and cost-effective clean-up technologies are also being developed and tested. The legacy pollution of PFAS is a huge ongoing cost for society and effective cleanup methods are vital to protect future human health. A final activity of WP3 is to support policy actions on PFAS.
Logo of the PERFORCE3 podcast series “PFASology”