PFASs: A DoD “Emerging Contaminant: that you probably use daily

January 13, 2017

 

What are PFASs?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a group of contaminants on the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Emerging Contaminant Action List. This list is comprised of chemicals and materials that pose a perceived or real threat to the environment or human health. The contaminants on this list have either no health standard or a standard that is evolving. These contaminants also may have inadequate human health data, new detection limits or new paths of exposure.

PFASs have crept their way onto the environmental scene in large part because they are very difficult to break down. These substances are comprised of long chains of fluorinated carbon atoms which are very hard to break apart and destroy. Because PFASs are so difficult to break down, they are normally transferred from one area to another; relocating the problem rather than eradicating it.

Researchers and scientists are just beginning to discover the dangers and risks involved with PFASs, even though these chemicals are widely used in household products. PFASs have lipid- and liquid-repellent properties that make them beneficial in common paper goods and coatings. These applications often include:

  • Paper
  • Packaging
  • Textiles
  • Leather
  • Carpet goods
  • Industrial surfactants
  • Additives
  • Protective coatings
  • Firefighting foams

 

What industries stand to be impacted most by PFAS regulation?

PFASs have been present in the environment for almost 50 years and are commonly found in birds, mammals, water, soil and even humans. When tested, approximately two percent of the public water supply was found to be contaminated with PFOS (perfluooctane sulphonate) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), two types of PFAS.

The highest levels of PFOS emissions were found in the metal and paper industries.

 

What does emerging research on PFAS mean for industry?

Researchers and scientists are currently attempting to find ways to manage PFAS.

The EPA has already set a health advisory of 70 ppt, although this number may change as research continues. So far, all PFAS readings measured in water and soil have been below the health advisory limit, but PFAS levels have been trending higher each year over the last 50 years.