Superfund Research Program

July 2019

Philippe Grandjean and Rainer Lohmann

Philippe Grandjean, M.D., Ph.D., of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, left, described how PFAS may reduce a child’s response to vaccines. He was introduced by Rainer Lohmann, Ph.D., right, URI SRP Center director.
(Photo courtesy of Michael Salerno)

The 2019 Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS): Second National Conference, held June 10–12 at Northeastern University in Boston, brought researchers from diverse disciplines together to discuss cutting-edge PFAS research and strategies to protect human health.

Funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the Superfund Research Program (SRP) Centers at Northeastern University and the University of Rhode Island (URI) helped organize the event, which was attended by 275 people.

PFAS are man-made chemicals that are impermeable to grease, water, and oil, so they tend to be used in a wide variety of products including fire-fighting foams and consumer products. Manufactured in the United States since the 1940s, there are nearly 5,000 types of PFAS. PFAS contamination in the environment, including in drinking water, is being discovered across the country.

Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., NIEHS director, gave the keynote address about current research at NIEHS on PFAS exposures, including findings by SRP grantees, as well as key questions for future studies.

The conference brought together an array of stakeholders, who may not otherwise interact, for three days to network and share updates on the state of the science. People living in communities with PFAS contamination also had opportunity to share their experiences with scientists, regulators, and others working on related issues.

poster session

In addition to workshop panels and presentations, trainees and young investigators showcased their work during poster sessions.
(Photo courtesy of Michael Salerno)

In conference sessions, researchers discussed methods of detecting these chemicals in our bodies and the environment, ways of tracing them back to their source, innovative methods to clean them up, and how research is informing the development of PFAS regulations.

Several SRP grantees from the URI Center, including Rainer Lohmann, Ph.D., Laurel Schaider, Ph.D., and Angela Slitt, Ph.D., spoke at the conference. Lohmann and Schaider's presentations concentrated on PFAS sources and reducing exposures.

Slitt focused on how exposure to PFAS may harm human health. Though research in this area is preliminary, PFAS are linked to altered kidney and thyroid function, low infant birth weight, developmental issues, and cancer.