An integrated methodology for risk analysis: the Veneto Region's experience
In Spring 2013, the Institute of Water Research of the Italian National Research Centre published a study on the presence of perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the main Italian river basins, unveiling a serious contamination of water bodies and drinking water across the provinces of Vicenza and Padua.
PFAS are man-made chemicals with a completely fluorinated carbon chain of various length, widely used for their heat-resistant and grease- and water-repelling properties. Until recently, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) were the two most employed PFAS congeners. PFAS are exploited for the production of fluoropolymers, non-stick and waterproof coverings, fire-fighting foams, lubricants, drugs, cosmetics, and pesticides. PFOA and PFOS are highly persistent in the environment and can spread at long distances through water and air. Moreover, they accumulate in biological tissues and along the food chain.
The European Union Regulation 757/2010/EU included PFOS among Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). In 2013, PFOA was classified as a Persistent-Bioaccumulative-Toxic (PBT) substance and more recently (Reg. 2017/100/EU) it was added to the Annex XVII of the REACH Regulation (Reg. 1907/2006/EC). When the PFAS contamination in the Veneto Region was discovered, there were no enforceable thresholds for these substances in the various environmental matrices (soil, surface water, groundwater, drinking water). Afterwards, the European Directive 2013/39/EU added PFOS to the list of priority hazardous substances for water policy and set up Quality Standars in surface water and biota. Italy implemented the above-mentioned Directive with the Legislative Decree no. 172 of October 13th 2015, which also established Quality Standars in surface water for five more perfluorinated compounds (PFOA; perfluorobutanoic acid, PFBA; perfluorobutane sulfonate, PFBS; perfluoropentanoic acid, PFPeA; and perfluorohexanoic acid, PFHxA). Moreover, with Decree of July 6th 2016 the Italian Ministry of Environment established legal thresholds for PFBS, PFPeA, PFHxA, PFOA, and PFOS in groundwater. As regards drinking water, in January 2014 the Italian Ministry of Health issued a statement of the National Institute of Health setting up performance thresholds for PFOA, PFOS and the sum of other PFAS. Recently, with Deliberation no. 1590 of October 3rd 2017, the Veneto Regional Government established new and stricter performance thresholds in drinking water taking advantage of improved water filtering technologies, with the aim of attaining the maximum available protection of population health according to the precautionary principle.
To tackle the issue of PFAS pollution, the Veneto Region adopted an integrated methodology for risk analysis and management, which took into account any possible exposure pathway for the population and required the coordinated action of many different Institutions and Stakeholders, under the oversight of the Regional Directorate of Prevention, Food Safety, and Veterinary Health.
Municipalities involved in the contamination were identified and environmental matrices were analysed with the aim of performing a Health Impact Assessment and defining a Health Surveillance Plan for the exposed population.
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