OSTP Publishes RFI on Identifying Critical Data Gaps and Needs to Inform Federal Strategic Plan for PFAS R&D
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
On July 13, 2022, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) requested input from all interested parties to identify data gaps in research and development (R&D) regarding several aspects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). 87 Fed. Reg. 41749. This information will be used to inform a strategic plan for federal coordination of PFAS R&D and, in compliance with Section 332 of the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA), the interagency strategy team on PFAS will also develop an implementation plan for federal agencies.
For purposes of the RFI, the term PFAS has the definition provided in NDAA Section 332(g)(1): “(A) man-made chemicals of which all of the carbon atoms are fully fluorinated carbon atoms; and (B) man-made chemicals containing a mix of fully fluorinated carbon atoms, partially fluorinated carbon atoms, and nonfluorinated carbon atoms.” The RFI states that examples of products that use PFAS include food contact materials (e.g., packaging, cookware), stain- and water-repellant fabrics and carpets, and firefighting foams. PFAS may be present in water, soil, air, food, and other materials. According to the RFI, “[r]esearch has shown that PFAS are highly stable chemicals that accumulate in people, animals, and the environment over time, and in several cases, have been shown to cause adverse health effects.”
The RFI states that respondents may provide information for one or as many research goals below as they choose:
- The removal of PFAS from the environment, in part or in total;
- The safe destruction or degradation of PFAS;
- The development and deployment of safer and more environmentally friendly alternative substances that are functionally similar to those made with PFAS;
- The understanding of sources of environmental PFAS contamination and pathways to exposure for the public; and/or
- The understanding of the toxicity of PFAS to humans and animals.
OSTP states that it is interested in responses to the following questions:
- Should the federal government consider identifying priority PFAS when developing a strategic plan for PFAS R&D? If so, what criteria should be used to identify priority PFAS for R&D (e.g., tonnage used per year; releases to the environment per year; toxicology or other human or environmental health concerns; or national security or critical infrastructure uses)?
- Are there criteria that could be applied across the five research goals identified above, or should specific criteria be developed for each individual research goal?
- Based on the definition of PFAS in the RFI, what are the scientific, technological, and human challenges that must be addressed to understand and to reduce significantly the environmental and human impacts of PFAS and to identify cost-effective:
- Alternatives to PFAS that are designed to be safer and more environmentally friendly;
- Methods for removal of PFAS from the environment; and
- Methods to destroy or degrade PFAS safely?
- Are there specific chemistries and/or intended uses that PFAS provide for which there are no known alternatives at this time?
- What are alternatives to the definition of PFAS provided in this RFI? What are the implications of these alternative definitions on possible remediation strategies?
- What should be the R&D priorities for accelerating progress, improving efficiency, and reducing the cost of: analytical methods, detection limits, and non-targeted detection?
- What studies would yield the most useful information and address the current gaps in understanding PFAS health effects in humans (e.g., in vitro, animal toxicological, and epidemiological studies)? Which health effects should be prioritized? What additional impacts beyond health should be prioritized? Social scientific approaches are welcome in addressing this question and any others, as appropriate.
- One challenge across all research goals is PFAS mixtures and formulations. Currently, more information is needed to understand the identity, composition, occurrence, source, or effects on human health and the environment for mixtures of PFAS found in environmental media. Additionally, more information is needed to understand the best way to remediate or destroy media contaminated with multiple PFAS. What should be the R&D priorities for accelerating progress in these areas?
- What goals, priorities, and performance metrics would be valuable in measuring the success of national, federally-funded PFAS R&D initiatives relating to:
- The removal of PFAS from the environment;
- Safely destroying or degrading PFAS;
- Developing safer and more environmentally friendly alternatives to PFAS; and
- Mitigating negative human effects of PFAS, whether related to health or additional domains?
Responses are due August 29, 2022.