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Poly and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS): Answering your most frequently asked questions

Because of their ability to repel water and oil, PFAS are widely used as non-stick and stain-resistant agents. Only recently have the dangers of these substances become apparent.

A growing awareness of the health impacts and prevalence of harmful compounds in our products and materials has consumers and manufacturers looking for more guidance to ensure the safety of consumer products. Current regulations for PFA measurement are still in development and differ per region, making it difficult to find clear and complete information on regulations and testing requirements.

Element’s contaminant experts can help you deepen your knowledge about PFAS substances and existing regulations by answering some common questions on the topic.

What are PFAS substances?

Poly and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are human-made substances that do not occur naturally in the environment. There are nearly 5,000 different types in the family but only two of primary concern: Perfluorooctanesulphonic Acid (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA). These two substances are the most commonly used and heavily regulated, although they are now being replaced with safer alternatives in most applications.

PFAS possess unique surface tension and leveling properties. They are very resistant to degradation, water-soluble, and possess low volatility and intermediate potential to bind to soil organic matter. This means that once released into the environment, they have the potential to migrate very large distances from the original point source, and they are almost impossible to remove.

These substances are often classified as emerging contaminants, but they are not new. They have been in use for over 60 years.

What are PFAS used for?

PFAS have seen widespread global use since the 1950s in a diverse range of applications, including surface coatings for non-stick cookware, carpets, soft furnishings, paper, leather, and metal and performance chemicals, like cleaning agents and firefighting foams. Point sources of contamination may include sites with current or historical uses comprising:

  • Petrochemical facilities
  • Textile and leather manufacturing
  • Paper and board manufacturing
  • Metal plating/etching
  • Sites that have a history of using firefighting foams such as airports, military bases, large industrial facilities
  • Landfill sites
  • Wastewater treatment facilities

Are PFAS substances regulated?

Regulatory focus on PFAS is steadily increasing to protect against perceived risks to human health and the environment. PFOS is already listed in the Stockholm POP convention, and the UN has recommended a global ban on PFOS and PFOA. Their use is already highly restricted within the EU, as well as in other countries. Many countries have adopted drinking water guidelines ranging from 0.01µg/l up to 1µg/l and the EU has set a sub ppt Environmental Quality Standard of 0.00065µg/l for PFOS (to be achieved by 2027).  Guideline values in the ppb ranges are also being established for soils by many other countries.      

How does Element test for PFOS, PFOA, and other PFAS compounds?

Element has considerable experience in testing most environmental samples comprising of soil, solids, groundwater, surface water, and effluents. Our highly trained analysts use LC-MS/MS instruments to test for our standard PFAS suite (13 substances), which includes PFOS and PFOA. Additional identified substances of concern can also be included where required.

Element Deeside’s PFAS analysis can be undertaken to meet a range of regulatory standards, including drinking water standards, and PFOS and PFOA to the ppt EU EQS levels.

With nearly 5,000 compounds, it is not generally possible to analyze for each substance. In circumstances where the Total PFAS concentration is required, we offer a method for Total Oxidisable Precursors referred to as “TOPs.” This method allows an estimate of the sum of PFAS, which may then degrade to form PFOS/PFOA or other PFAS compounds in the environment.

If we want to test for PFAS, how do we go about it?

To learn more about PFAS or to begin the testing process, please contact us today.

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