Advancing PFAS research and shaping future policies in Europe: The PERFORCE3 journey

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The ITN PERFORCE3, a Europe-wide doctoral research training programme, has concluded after four and a half years of groundbreaking research into per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, or PFAS.

PERFORCE3 stands for “PER and polyFluorinated alkyl substances towards the Future Of Research and its Communication in Europe 3.”Coordinated by Stockholm University and funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program under its Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, this initiative aimed to train the next generation of scientists in understanding and tackling the environmental and health impacts of these persistent chemicals.

The program was led by Professor Ian Cousins (Coordinator), and Professor Jonathan Benskin (Assistant Coordinator), both from the Department of Environmental Science with vital support from Dr. Ana Cordeiro (Project Manager) at the Office for Research, Engagement and Innovation Services (REIS) at Stockholm University.

From left to right, Professor Jonathan Benskin, Professor Ian Cousins and Dr Ana Cordeiro. Photos: Stockholm University


Fifteen Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) from 13 institutions across six European countries participated in the program, which ran from January 1st, 2020, to June 30th, 2024. An additional 11 partner organizations participated actively in the project both in training and research activities.

The ESRs explored various aspects of PFAS, from their emissions and exposure pathways to their toxic effects and potential alternatives.

A collaborative effort across Europe

The PERFORCE3 project brought together world experts in environmental science to tackle the complex challenges posed by PFAS. These chemicals, known for their water and oil-repellent properties, are found in numerous consumer products but have also been linked to serious health and environmental issues. Guided by these experts, the ESRs conducted independent yet interconnected research projects, complemented by a structured training program that included technical courses, professional skills workshops, and international lab visits.

The program’s success is evident in the accomplishments of its participants, of whom 3 have already earned their PhDs with the remaining participants on track to earn theirs as well. Collectively to date, they have published 27 peer-reviewed journal articles with many more in the pipeline, advancing our understanding of PFAS and paving the way for future research and regulatory efforts.

Fourteen of the 15 ESRs within ITN PERFORCE3 during a workshop held at Stockholm University in 2022. Photo: Jonathan Benskin

Key research findings

Some highlights from the research conducted by the PERFORCE3 ESRs include:

Silvia Hupcejová Dudášová (Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research – UFZ, Germany)

Used advanced mass spectrometric techniques to identify emerging and novel PFAS in human samples and exposure media. Her work includes a fully automated data processing workflow for efficient PFAS identification.

Mélanie Lauria (Stockholm University, Sweden)

Conducted a fluorine mass balance study on artificial turf used on football pitches in Stockholm, revealing the presence of fluoropolymers. She also developed a machine-learning model to predict PFAS concentrations in marine mammal livers.

Joost Dalmijn (Stockholm University, Sweden)

Compiled an emission inventory for the fluoropolymer production industry, identifying various PFAS emissions and their environmental impact near production plants in Europe and Asia.

Mohammad Sadia (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Developed methods to measure PFAS in drinking water at very low concentrations and explored the limitations of activated carbon treatment for PFAS removal.

Oddný Ragnarsdóttir (University of Birmingham, United Kingdom)

Investigated PFAS exposure through the skin, finding that PFAS in personal care products and dust are bioaccessible for dermal uptake.

Faezeh Sadrabadi Haghighi (German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment)

Studied the impact of PFAS on cholesterol metabolism in human liver cells, revealing disruptions in lipid metabolism and the activation of a nuclear receptor involved in fat regulation.

Lackson Kashobwe (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU), Netherlands, Netherlands)

Studied the effects of legacy and alternative PFAS on lipid storage in human liver cells, showing different impacts on lipid synthesis and breakdown.

Lara Cioni (NILU – Norwegian Institute for Air Research, Norway)

Analyzed human blood samples from a Tromsø cohort, detecting 13 known PFAS and highlighting changes in exposure over time. Her research also identified fluorinated pharmaceuticals as significant contributors to total organic fluorine exposure.

Ana Carolina Coelho (UiT – The Arctic University of Norway, Norway)

Identified predictors of PFAS concentrations in Norwegian women and examined the effects of PFAS on gene expression linked to lipid metabolism.

Lars Brunken (Karolinska Institute, Sweden, Sweden)

Investigated the association between PFAS levels and cholesterol in highly exposed individuals, showing concentration-dependent effects on lipid synthesis and cellular functions.

Sanne Smith (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences)

Demonstrated the effectiveness of foam fractionation and electrochemical oxidation in removing PFAS from contaminated waters, though noting the high energy cost and matrix sensitivity of this method.

Björn Bonnet (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences)

Studied PFAS adsorption to surfaces in fire suppression systems and demonstrated the efficiency of heated glycols in PFAS removal.

Michel Hubert (Norwegian Geotechnical Institute)

Studied how PFAS stick to soils and how well they can be removed using different cleaning agents, finding that biochar shows promise for keeping PFAS stable in contaminated soils.

Viktória Licul-Kucera (Hochschule Fresenius, Germany)

Designed and synthesized new, potentially biodegradable PFAS, and tested their biodegradability and metabolism in rats and humans under controlled conditions.

Rachel London (ETH Zurich, Switzerland)

Assessed alternatives to long-chain PFAS in various industrial and consumer uses and developed a modified multi-criteria decision analysis for chemical alternatives aligned with current EU regulation and guidance.

Professor Ian Cousins, Coordinator of the PERFORCE3 project, expressed great satisfaction with his role, stating, “It has been an absolute pleasure leading the PERFORCE3 project.” He went on to describe it as “the most rewarding project that I have ever participated in during my long career.” Professor Cousins highlighted the progress of the 15 young researchers involved in the project, saying, “To see the 15 young researchers develop during the project and become experts in the field has warmed my heart.” He added that several of these ESRs have already moved on to careers in environmental sciences.

“We can be safe in the knowledge that the future is in good hands,” asserted Professor Cousins.

For publications, updates, and more about the project, visit the PERFORCE3 website.

There, you’ll find videos, blogs, and the PFASology podcast series, also available on Spotify. The podcast, produced by the ESRs, offers plain language summaries of their research.


This article was originally posted June 30, 2024 on the Department of Environmental Science website.