As judges, regulators, and consumers make decisions surrounding the benefits and risks of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) exposure, they need the best available scientific evidence to help guide their choices.

But what happens when the science isn’t yet settled? How can those making regulatory, policy, and judicial decisions properly assess risk if the potential health effects of a substance have not been defined using rigorous scientific research that has been peer-reviewed and ultimately, replicated?

This has been the driving issue of the Center’s ongoing effort to provide research grants to the brightest minds in toxicology and risk analysis to determine the validity of the published scientific research most commonly used in the making of regulatory, policy, and judicial decisions on four key issues: ethylene oxide, glyphosate, PFAS, and talc.

We are thrilled to announce our first funded independent review on PFAS was accepted for publication. This comes at a critical time, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moves to implement its PFAS Roadmap and states take PFAS regulation into their own hands.

The findings may surprise many outside of the scientific community. The researchers found that the most impactful studies on PFAS—those cited most often by regulators and legislators in the United States and worldwide for policy and rulemaking—lack sufficient evidence to draw accurate conclusions about the association of PFAS with any specific disease.

The critical review performs a meticulous critical analysis of what is known and unknown about PFAS, notes the strengths and weaknesses of existing research, and provides several key insights to help guide regulatory boards in future decision-making.

The critical review has been published in Volume 208 of Environmental Research, a peer-reviewed environmental science and environmental health journal, and was performed by the Center of Environmental Food and Toxicological Technology at the University of Rovira i Virgili in Spain.

The University of Rovira i Virgili, located in southern Catalonia, is an internationally recognized research institution. Founded in 1991, URV has been recognized as a Campus of International Excellence by the Spanish Ministry of Education.

Along with the key findings most helpful for regulatory bodies, their review provides valuable insight for improving methodological protocols for future PFAS experimental studies. The critical review was performed in accordance with PRISMA guidelines, the most rigorous set of internationally accepted criteria guiding the reporting of systematic reviews and meta-analyses.

It is also the first and only critical review of highly cited articles on PFAS based on a framework developed by the U.S. National Toxicology Program’s Office of Health Assessment and Translation (OHAT) review guidelines.

“This review highlights how a greater emphasis must be placed on developing workable and effective risk assessment methods for human health, including integrative translational toxicology to support regulatory processes and the development of relevant policy-related strategies for PFAS,” said Vikas Kumar, Ph.D., lead research scholar for the critical review.

Properly advancing scientific knowledge requires first identifying research gaps surrounding a specific question. With the recommendations made by these review authors, future research can be done to calculate human-relevant dosages, to explore possible PFAS links with human health, and set tolerable daily intake.

Only after we know exactly how PFAS impacts the human body at human-relevant exposure levels can the global community make informed and responsible decisions to protect people without raising unnecessary alarms.

A summary of the critical review findings can be found here.

The full critical review article can be found here.