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Perfluorinated compounds

(July 2016)

Perfluorinated compounds and their derivatives are man-made chemicals that have been used in a wide range of products, including garments and textiles, fabric protection, furniture, and some types of fire-fighting foam.

The scientific literature on the effects of these chemicals on people is inconclusive. However testing on animals has shown some effects at low doses.

FSANZ work on perfluorinated compounds

The Commonwealth Department of Health has asked FSANZ to develop health-based guidance values (HBGV) for perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS).

A HBGV is a level of a chemical that a person can consume without adverse effects over a given time period.  

FSANZ will determine if a potential risk arises due to the presence of these contaminants in the food supply. Our investigation will include consultation with key stakeholders, including other Australian and New Zealand government agencies and international bodies.

FSANZ will also consider whether any regulatory or non-regulatory action is required to manage any risks arising from perfluorinated compounds in the food supply. If our investigation indicates a change to the Food Standards Code (e.g. setting a maximum level) may be warranted, we will raise a proposal. This would consider whether an amendment is needed or whether other options would be more appropriate to control any identified risks.

Surveillance

In the 24th Australian Total Diet Study Phase 2, which analysed perfluorinated compounds in a range of foods in the Australian diet, there were no detections for PFOA and only two detections for PFOS out of 50 foods tested. The concentrations of PFOS were at very low levels (1 part per billion) and similar to those reported internationally for the same foods. Foods were sampled from a range of different retail outlets representing the buying habits of most of the community, including supermarkets, corner stores, delicatessens, markets and takeaway shops.

Previous work on perfluorinated compounds

In 2015, the NSW Food Authority asked FSANZ to provide advice on the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) for PFOS established by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2008, and on safe maximum levels of PFOS in seafood.

The request was made in relation to areas of localised contamination in NSW.

Based on a comparison of potential estimated dietary exposure to PFOS from consuming oysters sourced from the area of interest in NSW with the EFSA TDI, FSANZ’s preliminary conclusion was that there was low health risk concern for the general population.

For people who may consume large amounts of other seafood from the areas of interest, FSANZ found there is a potential to exceed the EFSA health based guidance value for PFOS for some species of fish or crustacea. However, this is not likely to be the case for the general population. Further research is required on levels of PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS in seafood and other commodities in the food supply.

Read the NSW EPA report.

The Food Standards Code

Standard 1.4.1 Contaminants and Natural Toxicants regulates levels of contaminants in the food supply. This Standard sets out the maximum levels of specified metal and non-metal contaminants and natural toxicants in nominated foods. As a general principle, regardless of whether or not a maximum level exists, the levels of contaminants and natural toxicants in all foods should be kept As Low As Reasonably Achievable (the ALARA principle).

More information

NSW Environmental Protection Agency’s comprehensive FAQ about perfluorinated compounds.

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