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Perfluoroalkyl – What is it?

Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a class of synthetic compounds widely used in industrial applications that are characterized by a highly fluorinated hydrophobic linear carbon chain attached to a hydrophilic functional group. PFAS’ are of interest due to their longevity in the environment, toxicity, adaptability, and negative human health effects.

The chemical structure of PFAS gives them unique properties, such as heat survivability, oil and water repelance, making them useful in industrial and consumer products (firefighting foams, lubricants, fabric stain protection, waterproofing, non-stick cookware, food packaging, etc).

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) are two of the best known and most studied PFAS’.

During the manufacturing process of some PFAS, and the use of PFAS products PFOA and PFOS have become airborn, water and soil become contaminated throughout the world. PFOA and PFOS have been detected in many isolated parts of the world indicating that long-range transport of these chemicals is happening.

Other PFAS’ of environmental concern include Perfluorooctane sulfonamides, sulfonamido ethanols, Fluorotelomer sulfonates, and other forms of Perfluoro carboxylates and sulfonates.

The EPA has found that there is strong evidence that PFOS and PFOA may cause cancer (EPA 2016d, 2016e). The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has found that PFOA is possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B) (IARC 2016). In May 2016, EPA established drinking water health advisories of 70 parts per trillion (0.07 micrograms per liter (μg/L)) for the combined concentrations of PFOS and PFOA. Above these levels, EPA recommends that drinking water systems take steps to assess contamination, inform consumers and limit exposure. The health advisory levels are based on the RfDs (EPA 2016b, 2016c).

Doug Workman
Master Water Specialist
President

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