"The Madrid Statement is an expression of concern by scientists working on the characterization of the uses, properties, analysis, environmental distribution and adverse effects of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs)," says Ian Cousins, professor at the Department of Applied Environmental Science (ACES), Stockholm University and co-author of the Madrid Statement.

The authors and signatories of the Madrid Statement are concerned that existing PFASs are being replaced by a wide range of fluorinated alternatives for which little information on production volumes, uses, properties and biological effects is available.

Health effects of PFASs

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) identified over 3000 PFASs currently in use. These chemicals are suspected for adverse health effects, but very few of them have been tested. These PFASs are found in, or used in the manufacturing of, many consumer products including outdoor and fashion clothing, carpets, furniture, cookware, food contact paper, and some cosmetics.

"A major characteristic of PFASs is that they are almost impossible to break down. Many future generations will therefore be exposed to PFASs produced during our lifetimes. They are now found in the deepest ocean, in the highest mountains, and in nearly all living creatures including humans," says Ian Cousins.

One PFAS is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as C8, which has been found in the bodies of humans and animals all over the planet. Exposure is linked to cancer, liver malfunction, hypothyroidism, obesity, decreased immune response to vaccines in children, hypertension, and other health problems. Despite the known health harm, C8 was used for decades, and is only now being phased out by most manufacturers. However, the major replacements are other PFASs that have a potential for similar toxicity but little data on exposure or effects are available.

Call for a non-fluorinated replacement strategy

The scientific consensus in the Madrid Statement is that all PFASs are potentially problematic due to their extreme persistence and potential for human and environmental harm, and need to be replaced with safe non-PFAS alternatives that are degradable.

"We know about the human health impacts of PFOA because it leaked into the water supply near production plants in West Virginia and southern Ohio. Tens of thousands of people were found to have PFOA in their bodies and also a wide range of health problems associated with this exposure. We don't want to repeat the mistakes of the past,” says Ian Cousins.

“Consumers need to know where these chemicals are used in order to make educated choices," says Ian Cousins.