& Polyfluoroalkyls: What You Need to Know

Per- & Polyfluoroalkyls: What You Need to Know

Table of Contents

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of synthetic chemicals that have been widely used since the 1940s due to their unique properties, which include heat and chemical resistance, low surface tension, and the ability to repel oil, water, and stains. These properties have caused PFAS to be utilized in a variety of applications, such as nonstick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics, and firefighting foams.

Although PFAS have been widely used for decades, recent research has highlighted the potential health and environmental impacts associated with these substances. Studies have indicated that some PFAS can accumulate in human tissues and remain there for long periods of time. 

This has raised concerns about the potential health risks posed by PFAS, such as cancer and other diseases. In addition, it has been shown that PFAS can contaminate drinking water sources and accumulate in aquatic organisms, leading to further environmental damage.

There are thousands of different PFAS compounds, and they are broadly classified into two categories: perfluorinated and polyfluorinated. Perfluorinated compounds have a fully fluorinated carbon chain, while polyfluorinated compounds have one or more non-fluorinated carbon atoms. 

Some common PFAS examples include perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA). While PFAS are known for their durability and stability, they can persist in the environment for long periods and have been detected in air, water, soil, and biota worldwide. 

There is ongoing research and debate about the potential health effects of exposure to PFAS, and some countries have taken steps to phase out certain PFAS compounds or restrict their use.

Health Concerns Associated With PFASs

The EPA discovered that some PFAS could linger in the human body and be passed to a fetus via pregnancy or to an infant through breast milk. Additionally, studies have indicated that these substances may cause health issues or tumors in laboratory animals.

It is important to note that the health risks and potential effects of being exposed to PFAS can differ depending on the particular compound, length and intensity of exposure, and other factors.

More research is needed to understand the potential health effects of PFAS exposure, as there is still much that is not known. Although some PFAS compounds have been more extensively studied than others, and the data on their potential health effects may be more reliable, it is important to continue researching these chemicals in order to fully understand any risks associated with them.

Despite the ongoing debate and uncertainty surrounding the potential health impacts of PFAS exposure, some countries have taken steps to phase out certain types of these compounds or restrict their use due to worries about their potential effects on human health and the environment.

The European Union has taken action to eliminate the use of PFAS compounds in firefighting foams and certain food contact materials. They have also put limits in place for other items that could contain these substances.

In the United States, regulatory action has been taken to address certain PFAS. This includes issuing a lifetime health advisory for two PFAS compounds (PFOA and PFOS) in drinking water.

Environmental Impact

Although PFAS have been used in various applications for a long time, concerns about their potential environmental impact still remain.

One of the key characteristics of PFAS is their persistence in the environment. These chemicals are known for their durability and stability, and they can remain in the environment for long periods of time. 

This persistence is a concern because it means that PFAS can accumulate in the environment. The accumulation is a problem because it can expose people and wildlife to these chemicals.

PFAS can also bioaccumulate in the bodies of living organisms. This means that they can build up in the tissues of animals and humans, potentially leading to increased exposure to these chemicals. 

PFAS contamination of the environment has been a concern in many parts of the world. In some cases, PFAS contamination has been linked to industrial facilities and the use of everyday products containing PFAS. 

For example, PFAS were discovered in the soil and water near manufacturing sites and military bases where these chemicals were used in firefighting foams.

However, the potential effects of PFAS on wildlife and ecosystems have yet to be fully understood. Some studies have suggested that PFAS can have negative impacts on wildlife. 

For example, research has shown that PFAS can cause reproductive and developmental effects in fish, birds, and other animals. Additionally, there is evidence that PFAS can accumulate in the food chain.

This spells bad news that may lead to higher levels of exposure for some species. While more research is needed to understand the risks associated with PFAS exposure, it’s clear that these chemicals can have significant impacts on the environment and the health of people and wildlife around the world. 

Regulating PFASs

There are currently a number of regulations and guidelines in place for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. However, the extended use of these chemicals and their negative impact has led to regulatory actions in some countries.

As mentioned earlier, the European Union has banned the use of PFAS as a group for firefighting foams and banned certain PFAS compounds in food contact materials. The EU has also established limits on the levels of these compounds allowed in other products. 

Similarly, the US has taken regulatory action to address certain PFAS compounds. This includes issuing a lifetime health advisory for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. 

In addition to these efforts to phase out or restrict certain PFAS compounds, there are also a number of guidelines and regulations that address the use and release of these chemicals. 

For example, the EPA established maximum contaminant levels for certain PFAS compounds in drinking water. They also set limitations on the amount released from industrial sources. 

Additionally, the WHO developed guidelines for the safe use of PFAS in food contact materials. The WHO also established tolerable daily intake levels for certain PFAS compounds. Despite these regulatory efforts, there is an ongoing debate about the appropriate level of regulation for PFAS.

Strategies for Minimizing Exposure 

Although regulatory efforts are underway to address the health and environmental impacts of these chemicals, there are also steps that individuals and companies can take to reduce exposure to PFAS. 

For individuals, there are a few simple steps that can be taken to reduce exposure:

  1. Choose products that are labeled “PFAS-free” or “fluorine-free.” This can help to reduce exposure to these chemicals in everyday products such as food packaging, personal care products, and clothing.
  2. Use a water filter. Some home water filters are effective at removing PFAS from drinking water.
  3. Avoid nonstick cookware. Some nonstick cookware is coated with PFAS, so switching to alternatives such as ceramic or stainless steel can help to reduce exposure to these chemicals.

For companies and organizations, there are a few best practices that can be followed to limit the use and release of PFAS:

  1. Consider alternatives to PFAS. Many companies have already made the switch to alternative chemicals that do not have the same potential health and environmental impacts as PFAS.
  2. Properly manage and dispose of PFAS-containing products. Proper management of PFAS-containing products can help to prevent the release of these chemicals into the environment. 
  3. Implement best management practices for the use of PFAS in industrial processes. This can include measures such as proper storage and handling, monitoring and reporting of releases, and the use of control technologies to minimize PFAS emissions.

Overall, individuals and organizations can reduce exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances by making informed choices and implementing best practices. This means it’s possible to mitigate the potential health and environmental impacts of PFAS.

Are you worried about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances on your site? Get in contact with our specialists for Phase 1 and Phase 2 Environmental Site Assessments today!

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